Tag: opinion

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.

NBI Talkback challenge: ok, let’s talk about Gamergate

One of the recurring events in the NBI is the talkback challenge- basically, there’s a topic given and all who want to participate can write about it from their perspective.

This week’s topic is a dangerous one- but one that needs to be addressed- the question is “How did Gamergate affect you?”. Here’s my take on this.

Short answer

It didn’t. The thing is, i don’t view “gaming news” as news- that might be a bit shortsighted, but i treat gaming news just like the “economy” part of my newspaper. I might read them, but i don’t give much importance to them. So i didn’t follow up. What i knew before reading the wikipedia article about it was this: some female dev made a game that was rated highly…and she was somewhat connected to a video game reviewer (who didn’t review her game). Then, ugly internet things happened and because it was a female dev, there were misogynistic attacks. So that’s what i knew.

There isn’t much more to this, to be honest. But of course, you can extract different topics out of that “event”- how objective game reviews are, what about the social aspect of women working in game development or gaming in general, how internet baddies influence the lives of the people being exposed to that madness either by working in an industry with strong connections to the net or by being famous and things like that. Those are the three big topics that come to mind. So let’s take a look at this.

Objective game reviews

Don’t exist; they can’t exist, because even if the reviewer wasn’t directly influenced by the developers, he or she would still have preformed opinions on the dev and the game, then by art style, topic at hand and so on. We gamers see gaming as a discipline of art (at least some of us do) and you can’t rate art on an objective level. Nobody tells you that the Mona Lisa is a 7/10.

Returning to video games- when we were reading print magazines, we knew our authors.

German gaming magazine ASM- how i missed it when it went away
German gaming magazine ASM- how i missed it when it went away

There were the funny ones, those who preferred graphics over content and those who were the opposite. You knew what to expect and personally, i tend to do that nowadays, as well. For instance, i know what it means if you send Syp out to give a first impression of H1Z1- i don’t know why Massively-that-was did that, but the second i saw the author of the piece, i knew it wouldn’t be a good first impression.

If you want to read somewhat respectable reviews, i can point you to Rock Paper Shotgun – in my opinion this is the site where you’ll get the best reviews for games (they don’t do ratings, though and call their reviews “Wot i think”). But your mileage might vary. The only thing i’d tell you about game reviews is- pick your favourite content creator, know their preferences and act accordingly. User reviews are a waste of your time nowadays, especially for highly-anticipated titles; they tend to be 40% 1’s and 40% 10’s.

Women in gaming

Now comes the really dangerous part of this post, and what i feel is the main issue of Gamergate- how we, as gamers, treat women in our industry. Apparently, internet supermachos decided that the game of this particular female dev was rated too high because she is a female – first things first; if it was, and i only know about the title of the game (“Depression Quest” – an interactive fiction game where you play as someone living with depression), i’d suggest it was the topic at hand that got it rated high. Tackling depression in a video game is a serious endeavor, it’s a piece of art, alright. So when someone gives this a high rating, it’s not only graphics/gameplay they rate.

For sure it’s not the female developer, in this case Zoe Quinn, that got rated. And, accepting that i might go off on a rant here, but all those who think that the game was rated too good because of Zoe? I need to tell you something….most (mentally sane) people view women as….well, people. They don’t represent their gender but themselves. And…*gasp*, women are working in the fields that used to be dominated by men, such as computer science, game development among many, many others.

This shouldn't be the only career opportunity for women in gaming
This shouldn’t be the only career opportunity for women in gaming

Here’s the thing: i am not able to understand why this is still a topic for people- at least from the direction the internet machos are coming from. For women, though? It’s a big one, and that isn’t because of some conspiracy theory of women wanting to rule the world, make us all mobile game players, but it is for people who watch those women working in fields where they are still somewhat of a rare sight and judge them because they’re female. This is not only true for gaming and internet, but in jobs, as well. Here in germany, women still get paid about 20% less than men in the same job while, statistically, having received a better education.

So that’s why this is a topic for women still- it’s because, sometimes, they’re being treated shitty- and when they call men/society out for that? They’re conspiring for world domination? I don’t know, personally, i can’t follow that line of thought.

The internet thingy

Last point on the matter- the internet makes this stuff worse. No-one would tell Zoe to her face what they wrote in eMails (the same goes for Anita Sarkeesian); the internet allows for anonymity. I know my blog gets a lot of readers from the US and you don’t like opinions from the left field very much, but i feel the anonymity in the net needs to end. Either that or we’ll be more comfortable in smaller, more strongly moderated audiences on the net in the future.

Also, this isn’t a gender topic anymore. Male devs get attacked, as well, they receive death threats for nerfing a class or some similarily insignificant thing. It’s only that women exposed to internet hate get additional vile things thrown at them. After the Germanwings-airplane crashed in south france, not only did people attack the co-pilot’s facebook account, but also threatened his parents and people having the same family name. This needs to stop, we need to be able to confront and prosecute these misfits.

This shouldn't be our self-image
This shouldn’t be our self-image

There’s also the fear of societal subcultures being changed. If you asked me, american Hiphop was at its best in 1993- as it was just before it became popular and very profitable. German hiphop was at its best in 1999, when it was in the same stage of popularity. What we experience here are people fearing that their subculture might change without them changing at the same pace. That their subculture becomes popular. But this was bound to happen when we didn’t have to save our allowance for months to buy one game and changed it to spending our own earned money more regularly.

The effect on me

Still not much. I’m shaking my head as i write, but that’s about it. You see, gender equality is a big topic in our societies and it well should be. But there’s just so much about that, that misogynistic attacks on the internet are only part of the problem, as bad as they are for the individuals that find themselves on the receiving end.

If i have to tell someone he should treat women as…humans, i think the case is lost. He’s a nutjob and will continue to be one; just like racism, sexism is an incurable condition per individual. There is, however, a need to confront them, because we can’t allow this kind of behaviour in the societies we’d like to build, because it can spread.

Do you think Gina Torres, Morena Baccarin, Jewel Staite and Summer Glau are less passionate about Firefly than the male actors? I don't think so...
Do you think Gina Torres, Morena Baccarin, Jewel Staite and Summer Glau are less passionate about Firefly than the male actors? I don’t think so…

But just like with racism, there is a more subtle danger- really dangerous aren’t those that make hopefully idle threats, it’s the people who make jokes, who seem to be funny, who “have foreign/coloured/female friends so can’t be racists/sexists” but still are, sometimes without knowing. We also need to call them out.

The bigger picture, though? We can, and we need to address this as societies. This includes, for instance, the characterization of female protagonists in books, movies and video games, but it’s not ending there.

For the “gamer subculture”? It doesn’t exist anymore, and we should be happy about it, because we aren’t seen as basement kids (does this expression exist in english? If not, let’s go with neckbeards) anymore. Our hobby is growing and provides a huge variety of entertainment- to really become art, in my opinion, there needs to be more education, more “tackling topics” (like depression, for instance), more meaning behind the obvious, more thought-provoking commentary introduced to it. I’d like that. More diversity in the audience and the creators only helps with that.

And really, if “gamers” or “core gamers” are expected to treat individuals like crap in the internet and put extra effort in threatening female members of their own group? Yeah, i don’t want a part of that, thanks.

In the meantime, i will continue to treat women as, you know, people.

Dual Wielding: is SWTOR a universe to live in?

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.

Review

The last edition of Dual Wielding was all about the “one or many MMOs” topic- as said, it’s a big topic for me as i don’t have much time to play and also divide that time by too many MMOs i play or i’d like to play. I think it was an interesting experiment and i really enjoyed what Ironweakness wrote on the topic at hand. Basically, both of us don’t think there is a “right” or “wrong” answer, but that the key lies in choosing one style or the other. Both come with distinct advantages and caveats.

Based on what we wrote and my own experience, i chose to have a 3 MMO approach- one being my main MMO that hopefully serves as MMO home, two other MMOs with their main focus being on casual and varied gameplay depending on mood. I’ll allow myself to change the two side-MMOs on a monthly basis, the main MMO on a three-monthly basis that, again, hopefully doesn’t come into fruition. The main MMO also needs to become a side MMO for a month after it had its time in the spotline and the new main MMO needs to have been promoted from the side MMOs.

And then i started thinking which MMOs could serve as a main/home MMO and was surprised to not find many candidates. Meanwhile, Ironweakness and i decided on our next Dual Wielding topic- looking at Star Wars: the old republic as possible MMO home.

alderaan-screenshot-001

What makes an MMO sticky?

I hinted at what i’d call an engaging endgame yesterday – basically, it comes down to the use of credits or ingame gold in a broad measure and different ways to gain said gold/credits. This means that there should be as many different systems in place as possible- a bajillion different dungeons and raids don’t serve as engaging endgame for me. There should be credit- but not so many timesinks to accomodate different moods and session lengths. This is not the same; after all, i could make some credits in a very short session by flipping items on the GTN; if, say, one has to finish a main story questline to access game features, the smallest measurable progress in a session would be finishing a step in a quest. Sometimes, that takes a longer time.

Screenshot_2015-04-30_11_41_44_018933

Also, an MMO home can’t be of the “play-to-finish” type- quite a popular style of MMO to be developed in the last years- SWTOR began as one, i’d consider The Secret World, Guild Wars 2 and Lord of the Rings Online among them, as well. Maybe even Elder Scrolls Online. Play-to-finish MMOs, to me, are games where you are provided very few ways to play once you finished all the zones. They’re still big- the amount of content available in Lotro, for instance, could keep me busy for years. In Guild Wars 2, this is debatable, as well, since you can do world completion, exploring, pvp, wvw among others. And doing dailies is always rewarded. So it’s not an exact science; different people will view different MMORPGs as being of the “play-to-finish” type.

Another thing that’s important is replay value- if done correctly, you could level different characters without having much overlap in content- World of Warcraft is great in this regard. Star Wars: the old republic isn’t, and that’s why they’re going to activate 12XP again on may, 4th.

Anyways, Star Wars: the old republic came a long way since its release and i wouldn’t put it into the “play-to-finish” corner anymore. I’m no expert on the game by any means, so i might be wrong on some points i’m going to make, but it is my impression for now that SWTOR is one of the best MMORPGs to call a home nowadays.

Can you live in a galaxy far, far away?

SWTOR still is a story-heavy MMO that funnels its players through quite linear paths of worlds, quests and- for the expansions- story. Once the story is finished, there are still reasons to continue playing for players like me, though.

Credits matter

With many MMOs and their wildly used different currencies, one has to wonder why they bother to give players ingame gold at all. I know there’s RMT, botting, exploiting and other things to be considered and alternative currencies are an easy way out, but if i don’t have anything to spend ingame gold on, it defeats its purpose.

In SWTOR, there are huge credit sinks in place now. From strongholds, decorations, the outfit designer and/or even buying things offered in the cartel market (the real-money ingame shop) on the GTN, there are many possibilities to spend hard-earned credits. I don’t know how many credits are considered “much” at endgame, but a fully unlocked stronghold costing 6 million credits and craftable decorations with their materials coming in at 100k credits each on the GTN sounds much to me. There are also some threads of players complaining about them on the official forums- in my opinion that’s a great indicator of some mechanism being in place that is actually healthy.

SWTOR: Taris

I know, i know, one shouldn’t talk bad about other players- but let’s face one thing that’s quite obvious when you look at the development of the genre in recent years; players hate it when stuff doesn’t come to them easily and they hate it when their progress is halted by something. For instance, despite open pvp being a thing you can avoid in ArcheAge, its existence was a hindrance to many. In EVE, high-sec life is entirely possible and i, personally, have never been killed, even when moving and mining through low-sec systems- players still don’t like it. Rift’s Rifts used to have a big influence on the zones they happened in- they were nerfed into the ground on the basis of “player feedback”. Rift was also much more difficult in the beta compared to release. Players generally like that things are being gated, but their tolerance ends when they feel they can’t play a game in the way they want and be rewarded in the ways they want anymore. All these things have in common that they are obstacles instead of rewards coming at a certain point.

So i’ll leave some links here that- in my opinion- show that gaining and spending credits is implemented in many different ways in the game.

I don’t know how crafting ties into this- crafting in SWTOR seems to be functional if a bit disconnected from your character- it’s the companions that do the work, after all. But you can get good gear upgrades if you keep it on-level; a thing that will become even more important when 12XP for story missions comes.

So there is an economy

With 12XP, i’d expect many players to start a new character or returning to the game. One major problem these players will encounter will be their gear- sure, you’ll get upgrades from the story missions, but it might not be enough, even when they’ll give out more commendations with the story missions coming may 4th. Some players might use the market to buy gear or crafting materials. So if i were to guess- gathering and crafting now and putting all that stuff on the GTN after may, 4th, will be a good way to make some credits.

Screenshot_2015-04-30_11_41_05_944396

SWTORs economy isn’t a big thing in the game – the GTN is global, so there are no differences in prizes depending on regions. It’s still ok, though- i’ve read multiple times that inflation is being kept in check in this game. And if a game can make me (a casual newbie) think stuff like in the paragraph above, there has to be an economy of some kind. Combine that with the ability to spend earned credits, credit sinks that are far beyond my reach for now and you have what i’d call an endgame.

More than just story

SWTOR offers a great variety of content- if i’d like to relax, i’ll go with questing or stronghold decoration/planning, if i’m in the mood to play with others, there are enough Flashpoints. Then there is the on-rails-space-fighting-minigame for shorter sessions, and pvp both in battlegrounds and space. Not that i’m playing that type of content, but it’s there. You can also do achievements, search for datacrons and/or ways to unlock codex entries for the lore. You can raise the affection of your companions, equip your starship and so on. There’s a lot to do at level 60.

hoth-screenshot-003

It ties very nicely into different moods, session lengths, general involvement and different group sizes – SWTOR was mentioned quite often when Massively Overpowered asked for the best MMO to be played in a duo. The flashpoints are interesting group experiences not only with their content difficulty, but also in story-telling. The conversation options tend to be quite predictable if you play by yourself, but in a group, when rolls decide what kind of story your character experiences, it’s very interesting to see.

Alt-friendliness

Despite the fact that the levelling experience is a pretty linear affair, SWTOR still is one of the most alt-friendly games out there, even more so when 12XP hits, since you can just go for the class storylines without much overlap in content with your other characters. You only have to look at the numbers of characters veteran SWTOR players throw around when they have the opportunity to do so: double-digit numbers aren’t a rare thing, the legacy perks even give some “account progression” system to make it worthwhile and interesting to level more than one character. Roleplaying would be one reason to do so, but it seems alting is quite interesting for longterm SWTOR players.

The legacy sytem

The legacy system is a way to progress your “account” on a server. It’s slow; i’m still level 1 (well, i’m only level 25, after all) with level 2 coming closer. After you levelled up your legacy, you can unlock abilities for convenience, faster progress, faster travelling, unlock new races and so on. There’s a lot of stuff to be unlocked in the legacy system. I think you can unlock almost everything at any time you’d want if you were to spend cartel coins, but you can also progress through the legacy system and spend credits for these perks. There really is so much to explore here; i haven’t grasped the whole thing yet.

Strongholds

SWTORs version of housing puts you in appartements on a few selected planets. You can get decorations in a few different ways; from the ingame shop, by doing quests, certain achievements, crafting and so on. Dulfy has a great overview of decorational items and ways to get them.  I like that you can make your stronghold functional, as well: you can put in crafting resources (i tried it yesterday- you can collect from every node, even if you don’t have the crew skill needed, but there’s some kind of cooldown on the use, which is good), mailboxes, legacy storage and so on. If i’d look for a downside here, i’d say it’s a pity that the decorative objects aren’t really interactive. Sitting in a chair still is a rare sight in SWTOR; i’d like to water my plants, lie on my bed and so on- all of this has no use, but i think it would add a lot to the game.

Outfit designer

The outfit designer is SWTORs way of doing a wardrobe cosmetic gear system. I’m glad they dropped the restrictions on what you’d be able to wear (or is it only because my trooper can wear everything anyway?) for looks. It’s also a big, big credit sink if you’re going to make use of it extensively. Although i found out yesterday that the prize of placement isn’t fixed on 14k per item (it asked me to pay 1k for placing one item into one outfit), it’s still huge if you’re going to open and maintain all 16 slots.

 

What’s interesting is the monetization- SWTOR seems to go its own route in these things- in other games, you’re charged shop currency to unlock another outfit; in SWTOR, it’s optional- you can pay in credits or cartel coins. I think this is valid for pretty much everything since you can buy/sell everything from the cartel market on the GTN.

So, in the long term, the outfit designer is a thing to work on. Unlocking outfits, putting items in slots- it all has a credit cost attached to it.

The business model

It has to be said- SWTOR’s free-to-play model is often criticized for being more of a trial than a real option- i think that SWTOR’s revenue- i think it’s the second most profitable MMO out there- speaks for the game, in fact. After all, earning money is the goal of these games and they have to do so to provide content in a constant pace, quality and quantity. That BW wouldn’t be able to put out 8 class stories was obvious (to me, at least; that was one of the biggest reasons i saw for the game going f2p shortly after release- there was no way they could add storylines for 8 classes quick enough to retain their subscriber count).

CartelCoin_Avatar_03

I think SWTOR is entirely playable for free (up until the expansions, of course). It is slower, much slower, in fact, and there are restrictions in place that make you cringe. But you can unlock it all (except for expansions) with credits and buying from the GTN. I’d go the “preferred player” route, though, by spending a few bucks, and then buy all i’d need to enjoy the game either with credits or cartel coins. What to buy, though, isn’t very obvious; in fact, it’s a pain just to find out what the best unlocks would be.

Fortunately, there is a great overview of account types and a list of suggestions on what to buy from the cartel market on reddit. If you want my opinion, i think SWTOR is pretty much a subscription game. But it is possible to play SWTOR as a non-sub game, as well.

The verdict

I have to say, Star Wars: the old republic is one of the best MMORPGs to call a home these days- the developers seem to make an effort in building up the universe and keeping it healthy, as well. The credit sinks, general prizing both ingame and in the shop, are indicative of this. As are the latest additions to the game from Galactic Strongholds to the outfit designer. Star Wars: the old republic is a great place to be at the moment, with the coming 12XP and whatever the next content updates are going to be possibly adding more story, variety and quality-of-life improvements to the game.

It also speaks for the game that, despite huge credit sinks and not knowing what the endgame really holds, it doesn’t seem very grindy. Sure, after your tenth character levelling alone might feel grindy because of the linear nature, but SWTOR doesn’t gate content (that i know of) behind the main storyline, reputation grind or something of this nature.

This has gotten very long- on a personal note; i plan on having SWTOR in the rotation at least until the end of may, and even then, i’m strongly considering to put it into “main MMO” spot after Final Fantasy XIV in august, maybe, if one of the downsides of FF14 (grind, content gating by MSQ) prove to be too much for me.

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.

Massively Overpowered will be a thing!

So Massively Overpowered reached their Kickstarter Goal in just about 48 hours. It seems they didn’t need my help (via Massively Legacy, a short-lived series), after all 😉 Anyway, i’m glad it happened, because i have a feeling that what we’ll get will be better than what AOL gave us. Also, i’m happy to see that our support went above and beyond just telling them they should continue.

Suggestions

Of course i’d like to get some suggestions written down here that would help, in my opinion, of course, to raise the quality above AOL levels.

Give some love back

This isn’t the most important, but it’s the one i’d like to begin with. They’ve been great in providing shoutouts to bloggers in these last days (my blog was mentioned more than one time, and i’m thankful for that), and there was the great column titled Global Chat over at Massively. I think the team should keep that column, maybe make it a weekly feature or maybe even weigh in with their (or the columnists) opinions. They could also link out to bloggers who have touched on a subject if they know some posts are out there. One thing to cut out, for sure, would be the inability to link to external sources in the article copy itself- they couldn’t do it under AOL, i hope this will get fixed.

Ingame experiences

I loved the Wasteland Diaries. It was the dedicated Fallen Earth column. Really, a dedicated Fallen Earth column! It was there and it was great (although, didn’t Justin cover that at some point? There’s some other author in the category). I’d like to see some ingame-experiences again. Granted, bloggers provide those, i try to, as well, but maybe spice it up with an unusual angle or something? There are some things i searched for recently but couldn’t find, namely an introduction/tutorial for EQ2 beginners- everything i found seemed to be outdated, the best resource i found in this regard was this wiki entry. Also of interest: what quests do i need to unlock features in Final Fantasy XIV? Stuff like that. Or, you know, just show off the worlds. Justin does a great job at providing this stuff on his personal blog, of course, and maybe the Overpowered writers have more important stuff to write about, but the essence is: i’d like to see a return of blogging/opinion pieces over merely covering news.

Combine both

I’d also really like to see a return of the Dungeon Tours series MJ started in the end of 2013. This is a great way to include the community (by grouping up) and showing off the games. Another thing would be to bring back community guilds. I know they have been a thing, and some of them are still active, but i think it would be a good idea to do something like that and make it a little more prominent. In that veign, i’d love to see the roleplaying column and guild advice return.

Just do what they did…only better

I think this is too much, of course. They won’t do all of that, maybe even nothing at all. And really, i’m just happy to see it back and i’m sure they’ll make some changes that make the site better than it was in 2014, so that’s great. Everything else…well, it’s just bonus.

I think if they just took what they did on Massively before the cuts and improved the “community” part a little bit, it would be great. The team is great, and now they are on their own, so i guess they have their own thoughts about how to make the site great and it will be a little different than when they were part of Joystiq, even if AOL/Joystiq didn’t seem too heavy-handed despite the budget cuts.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with and i hope to see first content going live today. They’re aiming for “this week”, but there were mentions of today, as well.

Quote of the day: Rant blogs

No, i won’t be able to do daily quotes. But this one bears repeating:

In fact I am officially done with rant blogs in any fashion. – Belghast, Tales of the Aggronaut

If i have gained something from these last few days (or is it a week already?) since reading about Massively’s possible shutdown, i think it is a sense of positivity and community. Most people were so supportive, it was great to see. And it made me realize: maybe we’ll be better of without all the negativity that surrounds us as a community and the genre as a whole? I mean, it doesn’t matter if you prefer Darkfall over World of Warcraft or vice versa, we share the same love for the same genre. Or at least, we should. So this sentiment of Belghast is something that speaks my mind right now.

Sometimes i’d love to join the big guys- it’s so great to read how they’re playing games together and it just sounds like so much fun. It must be great to share gameplay experiences with likeminded people who not only share the love for the games they play, but also voicing their opinions and/or discussing about our hobby.

As for the quote and the blogger it’s related to: yes, i kicked him out of my Feedly, too. It wasn’t just his opinion, but also how he stated it and that most of what he wrote was just plain wrong (as far as i can tell- have to believe the other side of the argument, but i do).

Let’s just stay positive; i have the feeling the bad news from last week isn’t the only bad thing we’ll experience this year. I’d love to see us leaving 2015 stronger than now. Smaller, more tight-knit. More positive.

A massive sendoff

So, Massively’s closing on tuesday. The whole affair, though, proved to be a somewhat positive thing; the community loving that site is a good thing to see these days. There have been lots and lots of encouraging comments, blog posts and so on. While we are “between Massivelys”, i wanted to write down some thoughts about what Massively was like and hopefully, what it’ll be like, soon.

The community is strong in this one

I spent some time thinking about what it is that made Massively unique in this industry- i mean, there are other sites, like mmorpg.com, tentonhammer.com, mmogames.com and zam.com, but to me, they fail when it comes to providing the “Massively experience”. I think this has a lot to do with how personal, subjective and full of character the Massively writers are. Sure, we all have our favourites, possibly those who cover the games we each play, and for me, i like Justin Olivetti, MJ Guthrie and Jef Reahard the most. Bree’s also great, especially when she does some no-bullshit-writeup. But she wasn’t in the front rows often since she became the Editor-in-chief and lost her three main games in one year. It’s quite a team, when you think about it- Justin and MJ are almost always positive, taking a glass-half-full view on the games we all love, while Jef…well, i haven’t seen Jef happy since starting to read Massively. But he has always been a strong proponent for MMORPGs being virtual worlds, a sentiment i share.

The other writers are also great, of course. Eliot’s and Larry stick out because they are the ones who mainly stick to one game; this is something that you can feel when reading someone’s articles. The knowledge of the game is there, as is the love for it.

Oh yeah, this paragraph was about the community. It is noteworthy that 98% of the comments in these last days have been very positive and expressed the will to “do something” in order to not lose Massively’s writers and community as assets. Twitter handles were exchanged, i too dusted my old Twitter account off although i wanted to get a new handle with this blog. Speaking from my perspective, there aren’t too many community members who seem to be following the others, as in me, but i can’t fault anyone for that- i was a silent reader, mostly. That is something i will change in the Massively-to-come.

Massively Next

It seems to be clear that the staff will strike out on their own. They hinted at this being a possibility several times.

So what can they do? Patreon seems reasonable- go for a subscription model, make us pay for content. I’m sure, right now, there will be a lot of people supporting their efforts. But i also have to say that Patreon is also a bit risky- they could lose subscriptions over time. I don’t know if a Kickstarter is possible, but it would have the benefit of a lot of money rolling in right now instead of a monthly stipend that could be cancelled at any time. Still, when we think “Online Magazine”, Patreon would possibly be the way to go.

Also, they’ll have to move fast. I don’t want to be Negative Nancy here, but all these people telling them they’ll support Massively? They mean it, but give them time to realize that a world without Massively isn’t some kind of strange alternate reality one couldn’t imagine before and support will dwindle. Right now, people are emotional- hell, i am- and while one could say that it wouldn’t be the good thing to do, i’d advise to take advantage of that. They’ll get the most money 1 or 2 weeks after the closure- later on, it will become less with each passing day. They have to make their move. WoW Insider seems to be ready to go on february, 3rd, and i’m looking forward to see what they cooked up and i hope, Massively’s writers have something, as well.

While i think it’s really sad to see WoW Insider go, my first concern is Massively. I’m not so sure why they don’t join forces, though. I think it’s reasonable to assume that whatever both teams come up with, that it’s not going to be as large-scaled as what they were before. I think if they banded together, put the readerbase on one project, they’d both win.

Changes

Even if AOL didn’t interfere much with what Massively wrote and did- at least it didn’t seem much- there will be some changes coming. As said, i expect the new project to be somewhat smaller. Also, when your readership directly pays your bills- either by Kickstarting your idea or in a Patreon-style-subscription format, they’ll hold you accountable. That said, i think if it’s going to happen, the quality of Massively Next will be even better than what we have now. Also, the staff could write stuff that they’re passionate about- maybe we’ll see more roleplaying topics, maybe we’ll see more opinionated articles like the Soapbox. The Massively team has our hints as to what we’d like to see.

Anyhow, with this team together, i can see a really good, cooperative blog/news page coming up, and i could even see how it could be even better than Massively- at least for us, the readers. I’d hope the authors would also come out on top, but that remains to be seen.

Putting your money where your mouth is

So Ex-Massively author Rubi Bayer asked us to put our money where our mouth is. And i can tell you, i’m totally willing to do that. Since the €/$ – conversion rate is messed up right now, i can say that i’d put 10€ (wow, that’s only 11.30$ right now) a month in- if it was a monthly payment. Otherwise, i’d look into what combination of one-time-injection and subscription would work for me.

As for Rubi’s asking to help those authors out- i’m with her, maybe one should do that in the meantime. But i can also tell you this: first of all, i won’t be able to support everyone- it wouldn’t make a difference to either of them if i tried to, say, split my 12$ in three parts or something. Also, i’m slightly worried that if it works out “too well” for one of them, they might not be hungry enough to get Massively Next going- but that’s silly, maybe. And then there’s a third reason: whatever i’d put in, i’d send it off to Massively Next when it comes up, so the injection would only be temporary and i’ll feel terrible when i transfer it over to the new Massively.

Nevertheless, i think i’m going to become a Patreon of one of them- still want to sleep over it, but i’m positive. No question, though, that i’d pay for the Massively-team-new-site.

It’s not about grouping

Massively’s Jef Reahard posted another noteworthy soapbox column over on their site, stating that of course he cares what “you” are doing in an MMO. I found it difficult to understand what he was expressing, exactly. The only thing he mentioned directly was “solo questing” and the common saying that “you shouldn’t care what others are doing in an MMO”. Funny enough, i agree to the second part and am what you’d call a solo quester. I wrote about the reasons for that, so i’ll concentrate on the second part of his criticism, the don’t-care-part.

So we're in a group- did it help?

 

Normally, i’m with Jef on many occasions- i think he’s what you’d call a “core player”, which in this case would mean that he likes his MMORPGs to be “virtual worlds” more than games. But in this case i think that if games would follow that philosophy, you wouldn’t and needn’t to care about other players’ activities in your MMO. The reason this comes up is because themeparks are designed in a way that makes combat just about the only activity “worth” pursuing, and solo questing / solo progression is just the most accessible part of that activity.

I do, however, agree with two sentiments he only scratches at the surface in his opinion piece- one being that we all influence each other, even more so when we are thinking about a free-to-play game with an ingame shop, the other one being that MMORPG design took a wrong turn at some point in their history. But this is not about grouping up, storylines or quests. This, in my opinion, is more about trying to get attention of a wider market (remember: World of Warcraft is so successful because it gained a lot of players who didn’t play MMORPGs before WoW. Also, as a disclaimer: WoW was my first MMO, as well) and a strong focus on combat and loot. MMORPGs can be social without grouping up and doing dungeons.

Guild Wars 2 event

I could just log in and chat with my guildmates while playing solo. I could gather resources and sell them on the market, someone else could use them to craft something- all the while not being in a group but playing by him- or herself. Maybe i stand at a crafting station and get to chat with another player whom i meet at these stations regularly. Also, i would argue that grouping up to do a five-player-dungeon is not really social in a “massive” sense, because, after all, you are only interacting with three, four or five other players. If you are interacting, that is. With dungeon finder tools, “Hello” and “Thanks!” are often the only sentences someone writes to the group mates.

If we wanted MMORPGs to become more social (again?), there’s really no way around the fact that games need to be designed in a way that favors social interaction, friendlist-building and stuff like that. There are a few good ideas out there, like Guild Wars 2’s loot and gathering system (which has its own problems regarding the ingame economy), The Secret World’s time-to-kill and, for instance, Aions open world group zones, where Elite mobs roam the area, so that you are kind of forced to group up to travel these zones comfortably. Nothing really worked in getting us, the players, to play or interact more often. But i think this is the way to go. Add a good gathering/crafting/economy-component to that and forget the notion of instanced content altogether, and you might be on to something.

The Secret World

Of course, there still is the other side of the medal- the players. After adding incentives to group up, play and interact with each others as an option, which is important- it shouldn’t be mandatory, we would still have to do our part.

What i noticed- and i’m surely not alone in this- is that the perception of other players has changed since we took our first steps in whatever our first MMO was. Mine was WoW, and i was amazed- all these other people played the same game. We helped each others out, gave instructions and advice on how to get better in playing the game, we faffed around, doing things that made no sense in regards to progressing our characters. My wife and an ingame friend of her made a tour to see the world bosses in early WoW when they were level 30 or something. It was dangerous, it made no sense and they had lots and lots of fun.

Today, other players- in a more general sense- are players we meet via dungeon finder tools, who generally criticize what we are doing, have no respect for beginners (or, from the other point of view: steal our time by being beginners), hurry through the dungeon and/or become obstacles in progression (“forced grouping”, “gathering node thieves”) or kill our fun by perhaps killing us in world PvP, or hacking, cheating and exploiting their characters to success in a Sandpark of our choice, thereby destroying an economy and a whole feature for those looking for that kind of experience.

The model home was all i got
The model home was all i got

I’m not saying this isn’t true- i made some, if not all those experiences, as well, and i don’t like them, either. But i think we should look at other players in a better way. Because no matter who you are going to ask, everyone, even the hackers/cheaters and gankers, will say that other people ruin their fun in an MMO. Of course they don’t mean everybody, but each group has another group they don’t like: hardcore/casual, crafter/raider, roleplayers/gankers, pve/pvp and so on. So the real problem might not be “not caring” what others do in your MMO, but “caring too much”. They made Wildstar for hardcore raiders and it didn’t work out so well for Carbine. Now they make the game more accessible and the “hardcore” players don’t like the “dumbing down”.

I think, in the end, what i’d want to say is: we should give every player we meet the chance to get in your friends list. I think most players aren’t the monsters we make them out to be.

Also, if your MMORPG is a “real” MMORPG, there’s enough room and stuff to do for all kinds of players.

Another thing would be cash shop purchases, of course, which directly influence what the developers do in the future- you don’t like lock boxes, labor point potions or raid gear? Don’t buy them- not even when/if the publisher “forces” you.

Game time: rejoining a guild and experience bonus

This past week i played both of my main MMOs and dabbled in three others.

Everquest 2

There was a bonus experience event in Everquest 2 this weekend and i planned to take full advantage of that. As plans concerning MMORPGs usually go for me, it didn’t quite happen as i’d liked it to. I wasted friday just reading blogs and other stuff on the net- i was in the mood for a movie (haven’t watched one of those in what feels like forever) and researched options. Saturday i watched what i found out (Guardians of the Galaxy); it was a good choice to make- it was very relaxing, just watching a blockbuster which was both somewhat funny and quite entertaining. I liked watching space superheroes.

Sunday evening i was finally able and in the mood to dive into EQ2 again and quested in the Butcherblock Mountains- yeah, my main character was just level 23 and i know that the description of “main” might be stretching it a bit, but still. I got him up to level 27 in about two and a half hours, which was great. I realize, of course, that i could have levelled more efficiently if i’d got a mercenary and went to a dungeon, but i also like to see the overland zones of this game. Next time, though, i will take a merc and head to some dungeon or continue the armor timeline for the inquisitor.

While Everquest 2 is a quest grinder (for me) and gives each class way too many skills (i’ve got 4 fully slotted hotbars), there’s also a lot to discover. I think one would be able to level a character by just exploring dungeons and killing stuff that’s on the way while, maybe, gathering materials for crafting for a good while in the early levelling process, especially when experience bonus weekends are around. For now, though, i’ll take the handholding approach and simply quest while slowly attaining a broader point of view on the game. As i said, i plan to visit dungeons solo/with a merc soon.

Why solo, you ask? Well, you won’t find many PUGs that do the old dungeons. Also, while my guild seemed to be a friendly, welcoming bunch of people when i joined (shortly after the expansion launched), it seemed awfully quiet yesterday. They’ll take me to level agnostic dungeons and help me progress and they’ll answer my questions, though it seems to be very dependant on which members are online. The guild is huge, if you count inactive players, but it actually is quite small when you consider activity. Unfortunately, there is a big, silent majority in there, as well. I can live with that, it’s an old game after all.

Final Fantasy XIV

I continued the main story questline, but still haven’t made it to the point that the main story level equals my adventuring class level. I travelled a lot. My Arcanist is level 23 now, i’m a level 15 Weaver, a level 18 Botanist, Level 6 Conjurer and Leatherworker and a Level 4 Carpenter. And i learned how to dye my clothing as well as how to get materia out of items (but not how to get it in other items, yet). So that’s where i stand.

Fighting Ifrit

I also chose my grand company (that one from Gridania) and saw that this path gives levelling options and stuff to do aplenty. It’s very difficult for me to not take every crafting and gathering class that’s available, because i don’t like selling stuff i might use later in the game for another craft. Also, i think it’s more useful to level the gathering professions with some sense of meaning by gathering materials i use in the different crafting classes. But if i do it that way, i kind of know i will be all classes level 10 when Heavensward launches. And i don’t want that, so i’ll see how far my bank space takes me.

I also rejoined my german free company, they’re a nice bunch of people and it’s a small but friendly and quite successful guildand i’m happy to be back with them.

The dabbling

I loaded up Landmark, Marvel Heroes and TERA, as well. Reasons were: to find land for my possible building project, just logging in for a reward / checking if store specials were still active and, well, i don’t know why i launched TERA. Maybe because someone wrote about it and called it a great MMO to dabble in and have fun fighting stuff.

I’d really like to get the Landmark project going, but i really am not very talented in building stuff when it’s totally free (that’s also why i prefer EQ2’s housing over Rifts Dimesions, by the way) and i’m not very creative. But i want to do that…thing. I’ll write about that when it seems at least possible in some way. Meanwhile, combat is in, but for now, i just find it…annoying when you’re out there gathering stuff.

Lord of the rings Online – producer’s letter 2015

So Lotro has a producer’s letter sharing their plans for the first half of this year. I really don’t have much more to say about that than Wilhelm Arcturus and Roger Edwards already shared and would add my voice in saying that this producer’s letter seems, well, uninspired and not promising. It’s not exactly what it announces, which seem to be changes one would expect to happen to that game. Bug fixes, easier server transfers/closure of low-population servers, legendary items going to 100 and stuff like that seem to be logical additions to the game, and the same goes for growing the world Lotro takes place in and the addition of more small group content.

The surprising elements, for me, are the possibility of adding a new PvMP map and the “episodic content” stuff. I don’t know if there really is a big PvMP population in Lotro- i know there are some people who really care, but i was always under the impression that the PvP in Lotro is not exactly its strong point.

The episodic content seems interesting enough that i’d almost liked to see it. Story is one of Lotro’s strong parts, i think, and the world is another one. But still, there’s that huge dwarven cave in my way- i really can’t see myself playing my minstrel through Moria- maybe another, more solo-friendly class with a much lower time-to-kill, but i guess we’ll never know.

Or will we? I don’t know, but the producer’s letter really leaves me with these impressions:

  • earnings don’t seem to go that well (or they’d sell/plan an expansion like they did in 2013)
  • it’s the second year (maybe) coming without an expansion- but while last year’s updates were quite huge the “vision” for the first half of 2015 seems to be….humble
  • i get the feeling we are hurrying towards Mordor now

All in all, i don’t think Lotro will be with us much longer. I’m not saying it’s closing down, mind you, but to me, that letter doesn’t sound too confident. DDO’s producer’s letter seems more ambitious in comparison, so i don’t think this is a Turbine-was-hit-with-massive-layoffs-thing, but specific to Lotro.

So i guess i’ll close like the other two: if you like the game, live in the moment and play the game now.