Tag: World of Warcraft

Dual Wielding LFG edition: fostering communities

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

Make sure to read the other posts, too:

Intro

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

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

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

Intentional vs. coincidental

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

No negative interaction

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

gw031

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

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

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

Forced Grouping

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

ffxiv_duty

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

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

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

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

Complex gaming mechanics

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

2016-03-04_1490972650

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

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

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

The odd ones

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

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

What fosters a good community?

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

Make it more than a game

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

tales_of_tamriel

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

Create and maintain interdependancy of players

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

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

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

Allow interaction on different levels

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

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

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

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

Have a vision and make it last

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

internet_spaceships

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

Whodoesit?

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

Backpacker: World of Warcraft’s Teldrassil

World of Warcraft has a few qualities, which shouldn’t be surprising since it’s still the most played MMORPG out there. For me, two are very noticeable- the fluid gameplay/combat/movement and the second one, the world/zone building. It’s not only the graphics and Blizzards ability to get the most out of their decade-old-engine that WoW still looks good- it’s because of the zone design. So i decided to start a “backpacker” series for that. It’s easy to do, too, since you can play World of Warcraft for free up to level 20. After some research, i came to the conclusion that a Druid would work best, what with the travel form and such. It might be possible to explore zones much further into the level bracket when playing this class.

Leaving Darnassus
Leaving Darnassus

I don’t know where this plan is going to lead me- maybe even into a subscription, but if i’m honest, the last times i started playing WoW, the questing got to me. It’s always the questing- with Rift, Lord of the Rings and WoW. While Rift has decent alternatives to level a character, i don’t think one could say the same for WoW. Sure, there are dungeons and they’re great experiences- but i wouldn’t know why i should play the instanced part of the game to experience the open world. And questing is slow. Exploration doesn’t seem to be rewarded with xp, so leveling through exploration and crafting/gathering is not a good alternative. So you’ve got questing, pvp, pet battles, gathering and dungeons as ways to level.

Gathering could work. But it would take a lot of time, too much for me, even when i could combine it with grinding mobs.

Anyway, the possibility to level a character to 20 without paying gives me the option to travel through quite a few zones. I’ve always been an Alliance player, so i’ll use a Nightelf Druid for this, even if that means i’ll be starting on the wrong continent. I think i can leave for Stormwind come level 10 (already there, but haven’t looked if i can take the ship over there).

So let’s take a look. I don’t really know how long this lasts, but WoW’s zones are believable to me, and that’s the great advantage. In Lotro, for instance, the third zone you’ll play in will consist of one village/inn and some ruins as homesteads for people. I don’t know why these people don’t build and seem to be content in their ruins, but it strikes me as odd. In WoW, which i didn’t experience a whole lot (until Un’Goro in TBC’s time), the zones leading up to Un’Goro seem…well, despite it being a fantastic, sometimes odd world, it seems more “civilized”. I mean, villages look like villages.

The starting village of Shadowglen
The starting village of Shadowglen

Look at that- that’s where your life as a nightelf begins- it might not be exactly as big, but the whole layout is similar to the faction capital of the Guardians in Rift, Sanctum. I’d like to highlight that i don’t want to devalue Rift by stating this, but simply to state how much i like these sort of things. And it’s an exaggeration, of course. Sanctum is still bigger than Shadowglen’s center.

Another thing that i didn’t remember – and that might change later on – is that World of Warcraft really is generous with space/landscape. In other, more modern games, mob density is quite high- it’s for the sake of accessibility, of course, so that you don’t have to search for the mob you need for a quest or compete with other players for the same mobs, but if you look at zone design from that perspective only, what remains is a functional map. When you leave room for all kinds of things- villages, wildlife, trees, the odd cavern, rivers, lakes and whathaveyou- the zone looks and feels a whole lot more believable.

Lake Al'Ameth
Lake Al’Ameth
To Dolanaar
To Dolanaar

WoW’s zone design always impressed me. Sure, i like my fantasy worlds even more “open”, even less “zoney” and not as “themepark-styled” (thinking about the “haunted house zone” for levels 20 to 30), but there are few games providing that- the last one i know was Vanguard, which had a great world albeit with its own flaws. Other games are good, as well- Rift and Lotro’s worlds are open, and especially Lotro offers great landscapes that still hold themselves very good in terms of graphics, Final Fantasy 14’s zones are of a very good design, as well, but they feel quite small.

Exploring Teldrassil

Dual Wielding: pay-to-win edition

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

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

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

What is pay-to-win?

Wikipedia has the following to say:

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

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

What is winning?

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

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

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

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

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

Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

The future

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Dual Wielding: the ideal levelling process

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

This time, Ironweakness’ and i chose to tackle another subject- the ideal levelling process. For me, this is a difficult topic since i never really finished levelling in most of the MMORPGs i play- so voting for a longer levelling experience seems to be quite the opposite of what i’d want- but since i am someone who likes MMORPGs to be “virtual worlds” with a heap of different activities and a somewhat robust economy, a longer levelling experience makes sense. So here are my thoughts on how levelling should be- in my opinion, of course.

Neverending

I do like the arbitrary level number next to my character’s portrait. It’s an easy way to gauge overall progress of that character in the game. I don’t think that journey ever ends, though, so the concept of a “max level” doesn’t appeal to me. Just take a look at the achievement list in your favourite MMO – the developers agree! But they put another arbitrary number on achievements instead of making use of the existing one, character level. I could, of course, use that arbitrary number to see where i stand in regards of overall progression within the game, but i don’t really see the point in adding another value instead of using the one that has always been there to do exactly that.

Let it take forever, because there would need to be a soft cap applied. I’d prefer the soft-cap-max-level to be high, though, to allow for tangible progress early on. Let’s say your maxlevel is 255; just let it take 3 months of ingame time to go from 254 to 255, i don’t care. It shouldn’t be reached, anyway.

Of course, the problem is skill/class progression, which is often tied to the levelling process, but that’s a topic for another day. For now, i’ll make it short and simply state that i prefer skill progression over class progression because it allows for horizontal character progression- see EVE or The Secret World, for instance.

Uses all activities

If we take another look at achievements, the funny thing is that there are achievements for almost everything- yet, in most games, the only things that grant you “experience” to raise your level are killing mobs and completing quests. In my opinion, everything an MMO offers should contribute to your characters’ progress in levels. Good examples are Guild Wars 2, where pretty much everything you can do rewards experience, but also Final Fantasy XIV by use of gathering/crafting classes and SWTOR, where, as far as i know, most things you do give some progress to your characters, although it won’t always be towards levelling them but provide the player with alternate currencies.

Is heavy on story

But please don’t let me be the chosen one. I want to see an MMO-story that actually makes use of all the other players out there and it doesn’t make sense that we’re all superheroes, demi-gods or immortals- if we were, we were the ‘normal’ ones in the setting and the world dynamics would change.

Story-heavy MMORPGs are often criticized for being too solo-centric, but i feel that, while this might be true for the MMORPGs that are released, it doesn’t need to be this way. There are great, story-heavy movies/books out there that don’t just focus on one character. The key is that those characters have different opinions, different goals and different motivations behind their choices. In my opinion, we could do this in MMOs.

I think Star Wars: the old republic actually gives us a glance at this possibility- when you are in flashpoints, dialogue opens up. As in normal quests, the player characters will be prompted to answer. Every player of the group may choose an option to his or her liking, but what is actually said- story-wise, is decided by dice roll. This allows for situations where something happens, story-wise, that wouldn’t have been your personal choice and is still very interesting to observe.

So i don’t think it’s impossible to do. Of course, creating story takes some time, so how much story there is for players to experience should differ from game to game (and budget to budget), but if you’re a themepark MMO, story is part of the package.

Gives weight to activities

This ties in with the previous point- not everything there is to do in an MMORPG is totally epic stuff- there’s going to be the basement full of rats, the odd delivery quest, the filler content. And also, baking bread, smelting iron and so on. A game that wants to provide a good levelling experience gives weigth to activities- for instance by not throwing tens of quests at us when we enter a “quest hub”.

The Secret World and Guild Wars 2 do great in this regard- TSW only allows the player to have one story mission, one main mission and up to three item missions active at the same time, making each mission seem more important and easier to follow. Missions in The Secret World are often multi-tiered, as well. Guild Wars 2 doesn’t have quests, at all, and makes heavy use of location instead. Be in place A and there’s this thing to do, in place B it’s another one (often even providing multiple ways to finish these quests- by collecting items, killing mobs and so on), dynamic events are location-based, as well. Only your personal story and daily/monthly achievements are similar to what you’d call quests in other games.

Doesn’t change at endgame

The ideal levelling process doesn’t suddenly change the game surrounding it when it’s finished- “endgame” and “levelling” should basically be the same game. I see no reason why raids should be a max-level-activity. Sure, if the levelling process is short and players enter and leave the corresponding level-brackets very quickly, it doesn’t really make sense to create complicated content before max level. If, on the other hand, the bracket in question takes time to traverse, there could be dungeons/raids or whatever for earlier levels. If you take a look at EQ2, for example, it does a great job at providing content for all group sizes at almost all levels- this should be the norm.

Gives choice

I think if we’re talking about a linear quest-driven-progression, there should be multiple ways to level through the content. World of Warcraft and Everquest 2 are great examples – you could level multiple characters without entering the same zones (or minimizing this) on more than one of them, because for every level bracket, there are more than one or two options in playing. But even if we’re looking outside of zones, crafting, exploring, gathering, these are all activities that should be rewarded by raising that arbitrary number of character level.

Dual Wielding: one or many?

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: Dual Wielding: Depth versus Diversity.

First things first

I’m excited to start this project in cooperation with Ironweakness over at Waiting for Rez– it was his suggestion in a tweet to prompt each other for topics to write about and an idea i instantly fell in love with. Ironweakness and i share some attributes, the biggest of which is our reason to blog/restart blogging more regularly: when Massively’s closure became known and imminent, we started to wonder where the community might go- we both felt the loss in MMORPG coverage would be big and while we certainly wouldn’t aspire to be a substitute for a site like Massively, we wanted to keep the conversation going and stay in touch with the larger MMO community- so we (re-)started our blogs. In a sense, i think this project fits so well with our motivation to blog. So thank you for suggesting this, Ironweakness, and i hope we’ll have many interesting topics to write about as well as interesting perspectives. Today’s topic is one that seems to be more prominent these days- for me personally, but it appears that in a bigger picture, this is something that touches on the greater MMO community, as well.

Should you play one or many MMORPGs?

Stickiness of MMORPGs is a big topic these days- not only am i always returning to this line of thought in search for maxlevel, guilds and communities, but there were some articles on Massively Overpowered skirting this topic, as well. Then there was the MMO Hobo and his very recent post wherein he asked if we, as players who might look for “the one” MMORPG to play, might shoot ourselves in the foot by joining multigaming guilds. I think this topic is very broad- you can view it from so many different angles, but i think you could boil it down to one big question- what do you want to get out of your MMORPG playing experience? Do you play this genre as “games” or do you play it for the virtual worlds they present, the social ties, the community? I believe most MMORPG players want to play “the one” MMORPG- i don’t have a poll up, but my guess is that in the end, we’d like to have that game back that allows us to dive in and play more or less the same MMORPG for years. Sometimes, we’ll look at a game that will be released in the close future and think that this time, it might be it. And it rarely is.

Those hopeful days
Those hopeful days

I’ve seen times when i somehow, without expecting it or giving it a deliberate effort, will stay with an MMO for 2 or three months- Final Fantasy XIV comes to mind. But there always comes a time when i want my experience to differ, i want something else out of a session. And this is a strong reason to go with multiple games.

If nothing’s perfect, why not mix it up?

The MMORPGs we have are surprisingly good. I don’t look at “success” much, because i think in this regard, the releases of the last decade failed to deliver on their expectations and World of Warcraft, while being the most successful MMO, isn’t the best in my eyes. And while we often lament every new release to be a “WoW clone”, by which i think we mean “themepark MMO”, they’re not as similar to each other as one would think.

Still one of the better themeparks out there- wish i had time for it
Still one of the better themeparks out there- wish i had time for it

And these differences make switching between different titles an attractive option- first, you get to use all of those “special weekends” and events like the release of an expansion, a meaty patch or something and see for yourself how they fare. Then, you’ll always have a choice in combat mechanics, depth, even different economies, atmosphere and general gameplay experience. In some games, questing is pretty much all you do (Lotro), in others it’s the same but delivered in a different way (TSW), you’ll have a somewhat lighter atmosphere (FF14, Wildstar) or the more grimdark experiences of Elder Scrolls Online or Age of Conan. There’s polished content without much of a story (Guild Wars 2, and yeah, i know it’s lore-heavy, but i think the story is not presented very well in-game) and story-heavy questing (SWTOR), involved crafting (FF14, EQ2), standard crafting (WoW, Rift, Lotro) and hands-off crafting (Neverwinter, SWTOR), and i don’t even touch on how the game’s paces differ from, say, EQ2/FF14 to something like Wildstar or Neverwinter. For me, playing multiple MMORPGs makes sense because i don’t want to play the same game when i want to play. Sometimes i want a very relaxing and slow atmosphere, sometimes i like to get more involved and these are the times when “action combat” is a major point of decision making on what to play. Wildstar, for instance, with its very involved combat and high mob density is a fun game, but one i can’t play for longer stretches of time. Lord of the Rings Online is quite a slow game, it’s very relaxing, at least in the early zones, but the combat isn’t very engaging. One game that, in my opinion, gets the mix very right, is Guild Wars 2- it’s a fun game, but not too stressful. GW2 has the downside that i seem unable to find “depth” there.

The downside: you won’t set roots

So for almost every mood you might have, there’s an MMO waiting to give you the wanted experience. Only, it’s just not one game and if you don’t have a lot of time, you’ll be having trouble being where the buzz is. It’s also kind of hard to immerse yourself when you play half a dozen MMORPGs at roughly the same time- you’ll forget skills, current goals of your character, the story and other things. It might also be tough to get in touch with a good guild- and a good guild is essential to enjoying an MMORPG.

"Play-to-finish" MMORPGs can be a great addition
“Play-to-finish” MMORPGs can be a great addition

Now, this might not be a problem for someone who’s able and willing to play 20+ hours a week- a player with that mindset could juggle more than two MMORPGs just fine, i think, although i believe even then it might be more difficult to make friends ingame. MMO devs have been criticized a lot for making MMORPGs less social- by adding dungeon finders or even PUG raids- but i don’t think we can put the blame for our less social experience solely on the devs- it’s within our responsibility as players to be more social- the option isn’t removed from the games, we just aren’t forced to connect to other players anymore. If it were a dev thing, especially games like Guild Wars 2 and Rift would be very social affairs- both provide huge opportunities to form bonds with other players- and yet we don’t.

If you want a home, choose it

There was such a great opinion piece on that on the olden pages of Massively, but i can’t find it anymore. What Eliot Lefebvre wrote in his opinion piece basically came down to this piece of truth: if you want “the game”, you shouldn’t wait for the perfect fit. You shouldn’t think that the “next game” will make everything work out perfectly for you. He made a somewhat dangerous connection to a relationship- and the mindset of going to a date with the expectation that you’ll only date the partner three times or something instead of going all-in for a longterm relationship. If you’d want a shorter, more superficial relationship, that would be fine, but if you’re looking for a longterm partner, you should meet them with that in mind. (Edit: Thanks to Eliot for providing the link to the article– it’s a great read.

I agree- but having started with great hopes in Guild Wars 2 and Archeage, i can attest that even when something looks good on paper and makes you think you found the game, it can still be screwed up in a million ways.

Everything looks good on paper
Sometimes, things look good on paper

I would argue that if and when you choose to play one MMORPG exclusively, your experience will be much better, because you can dive deeper into the game mechanics as well as interact in social groups within that game. You’ll be there for content additions, you’ll sometimes log in and “just chat with guildmates/friends” and so on- you won’t do something like that if you’re playing too many MMORPGs at a time- because before you log in just to chat you’ll be launching something else. On the other hand, if you’re a “time-hardcore” player, MMORPGs might not provide you with enough content to play in your time- so maybe you might be able to juggle more than one MMO and guild- and then there’s the topic of “play-to-finish” MMORPGs which are basically all about the journey and not-so-much about endgame (The Secret World comes to mind). If a game really doesn’t provide you with any activity you’d want to do, switching to another one might not be such a bad idea. But this is a problem for players who play a lot, really. From my point of view, TSW, for instance, would provide me with enough questing and story-related stuff for…well, maybe for its whole lifespan.

And sometimes, it doesn't look good on paper but is surprisingly good on screen.
And sometimes, things don’t look good on paper but are surprisingly good on screen.

I wrote about reasons to play only one MMORPG earlier- in fact, it was one of the first posts on this blog. I think many of these reasons come into fruition now when you read about how more and more bloggers make their way into Final Fantasy XIV- others are there, there’s even a free company of (not only) bloggers somewhere, they stick with the game and have a great experience others want to have, as well. If you think about interesting blogs to read, at least in my opinion, it’s written by people who mainly stick to one MMORPG and can provide deep info, interesting, different ways to play and experience “their” game. Their excitement and dedication is infectious, they stick with a game long enough to alter the experience in these games beyond the obvious while us game-hopping individuals only see quests, quests and quests.

So you’re saying playing only one MMORPG is better?

No, i’m not exactly saying this straight- i think our experiences would be better if we stuck to as many MMORPGs as we can realistically handle. That number would differ from player to player. I’d say that if i were to choose one MMO to play with my ~10 hours a week, my enjoyment in this MMO as a “virtual home” would grow, i’d have more interesting topics to write about here and maybe would even be able to form friendships in that game- all of this isn’t possible when you divide your 10 hours to 4 MMORPGs at a time. Someone playing a lot would possibly be able to handle that number.

But still, as noted earlier, the games are quite different to each other, so much so that only one MMO wouldn’t fit into all our moods. So i guess my suggestion would be to “choose” one main MMO that you play for depth, social ties and as a “virtual home” and spice it up with some other games that offer different experiences. Also, i’m somewhat in agreement with Isarii right now: maybe don’t join multigaming guilds if you want to find an MMO home. But i don’t want to open that can of worms right now.

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.

So, what are my plans for 2015?

2015 will be a good year for MMORPGs. I believe so, because there’s not much in the way of “new shiny” coming out. This will be good, in my opinion, because the genre will relax a little bit- players will be more happy with their choices (because there’s nothing coming out next month that will make everything better), the chosen games will turn a profit and see some kind of development, and maybe some will be left behind and close shop. This may seem like a sceptical outlook, but i think this year is going to be healthy for the genre and its players.

So, i’ve put my resolutions for 2015 into some words and there’s two that are hopefully going to define my MMORPG-related gaming in 2015: focus better on some titles instead of spreading out too thin and “be ready when they come”. Also, i’d like to NOT discover an open subscription to a game like i did with Final Fantasy XIV the other week.

Final Fantasy XIV

Final Fantasy XIV

Speaking of which, FF14 will be my first candidate. With Update 2.5 possibly coming in January and the expansion, let’s say, in April, there’s still some time to get my main character to 50 at least in one class/job and hopefully one gathering and one crafting profession, as well. As i’ve mentioned a couple of times, i like the game a lot- it’s a nice mix of old school mechanics and new features and it at least tries to make crafting and the economy somewhat worthwhile.

So, at least in the first quarter of the year, i’d like to make that one my main MMO and hopefully get something done in there.

Everquest 2

Everquest 2 will be my “main alternative” MMORPG for the time being. I like it a lot (in reality, this is my problem- it’s not that all MMORPGs suck, but that they all have their strengths and i do like them).

EQ2 New Halas Mount

 

I’d like to play it when i’m not in the mood for FFXIV and continue levelling my Inquisitor slow and steady. My goal is to be where i need to be when the next expansion comes, presumably some time in November. But, of course i know that this game would be too big for that goal even if i’d play EQ2 exclusively until November, so i’ll see how far i’ll come.

Other candidates

SWTOR will lie dormant for the time being. It’s that “third” MMO i’d like to play, but i won’t have it in my roster permanently- the other two will take up all my free time to achieve what i’d like to achieve there. But still, when i’m in the mood, i’ll probably fire it up some time.

The Repopulation- i’ll take a look before headstart/final wipe and i’ll play it if and when it releases. But we’ll see if that’ll be in 2015, anyway, soooo i’m totally relaxed on that part.

Landmark- i have a vision i’ll share when i looked into the game and my abilities with it and have decided to follow through with it. So that might come up at some point, as well.

World of Warcraft is postponed. I might get back to that if i’m in the mood.

Lord of the Rings Online. If and when they let me buy my way through Moria i’ll take a look at the lands beyond. I won’t play through those caves, though.

Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar. If and when they go buy-to-play and/or free-to-play, i’ll be there on relaunch day.

The Secret World. Hmmm, i don’t know. Funcom did something spectacular with this game, it might just be the best “play-to-finish” MMO out there, but unfortunately, it’s too quest-heavy for my tastes. But it is possible i’ll be hopping in from time to time.

Did i forget something?

For sure. I’m fickle. Sometimes i’m in the mood for this and sometimes i’m in the mood for something else. As much as i’d like to call one MMORPG my home, i don’t see a candidate yet. It would have to offer almost everything MMOs have to offer in one game- also, my guess is it would have to be polished and, of course, at least hack-and-cheat-free. Also, of course, there are Elite: Dangerous and The Crew, which you might or might not call MMO…and there’ll be new games.

Doesn’t matter, though, for now. We know Heavensward is coming and that should be my priority right now, because i know for a fact i’ll consider buying it and it would be a nice change to finally see an expansion i paid for. So, right now, i’d like to declare 2015 to be the FFXIV and Everquest 2- year for me. We’ll see if that pans out. (Spoiler: it probably won’t)

What i’m playing

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

So here goes.

Everquest 2

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

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

Star Wars: the old republic

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

Elite: Dangerous

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

The Crew

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

World of Warcraft

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

Single Player

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

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

Is the subscription coming back?

The sub is dead

This is what we keep hearing for quite some time by now. MMORPGs released with a subscription but went free-to-play faster with every year- when we look at the games that made the transition, we have

  • City of heroes (88 months as a sub game, 13 months as free-to-play)
    • Release: April 2004
    • F2P: September 2011
    • Closure: November 2012
  • Everquest 2 (68/84 months as a sub game)
    • Release: November 2004
    • F2P: July 2010 (EQ2X), November 2011 (free-to-play)
  • Dungeons & Dragons Online (42 months as a sub game)
    • Release: February 2006
    • F2P: September 2009
  • Vanguard (67 months as a sub game)
    • Release: January 2007
    • F2P: August 2012
  • Lord of the Rings Online (40 months as a sub game)
    • Release: April 2007
    • F2P: September 2010
  • Age of Conan (37 months as a sub game)
    • Release: May 2008
    • F2P: June 2011
  • Champions Online (15 months as a sub game)
    • Release: September 2009
    • F2P: January 2011
  • Aion (16/18 months as a sub game)
    • Release: September 2009
    • F2P: February 2011 (Europe), April 2011 (North America)
  • Star Trek Online (23 months as a sub game)
    • Release: February 2010
    • F2P: January 2012
  • Rift (27 months as a sub game)
    • Release: March 2011
    • F2P: June 2013
  • Star Wars: the old republic (11 months as a sub game)
    • Release: December 2011
    • F2P: November 2012
  • The Secret World (5 months as a sub game)
    • Release: July 2012
    • B2P: December 2012

The trend is obvious. But we should not forget that this is incomplete data- these are only the games that transitioned from pay-to-play to free-to-play or buy-to-play. There’s no EVE, Final Fantasy XI, FF XIV 1.0, World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online etc. And furthermore, these are only the games i consider- one could add games like APB, Hellgate and Fallen Earth, as well.

Still, it looks like subscription games transition to free- or buy-to-play quickly these days. When you consider ArcheAge – released in January 2013, free-to-play in July 2013 in Korea, there’s another game that didn’t even make 6 months as a subscription game.

Players being cautious of buying subscription games in my opinion is about as much a result of this as it is the unwillingness to pay a sub. If you bought TSW on release and subscribed those 5 months until it went buy-to-play, you spent 125€ (167$) up to that point- and then it went buy-to-play for 30€ (40$). When you did the same in SWTOR, you’d have paid about 190€ (250$) until it went free-to-play, although with SWTOR, the free-to-play option is so bad that a subscription is basically still the best way to play if you do so regularly.

So when you hear “i’ll wait for f2p”, that’s really just a result of past experience, because players don’t question if a game goes free-to-play anymore, they ask themselves when it’s going to happen. And whether it’s more viable just to wait for it to happen. I think it’s unfair to judge these players- maybe they feel betrayed with one of the last transitions.

Now, while i don’t feel betrayed- i made a choice, fully aware about the risk, my own gaming habits and so on- but i spent 250€ (335$ or was it 300€/402$?) on The Secret World- i bought the game and a Grand Master Pack. I do think Funcom made it still worth somehow, but the main reason for me buying the Grand Master Pack was so that i’ll have access to a sub-based game when i wanted to have access- instead of asking myself whether it’s worth to spend 15$ when i’d like to play TSW one evening/weekend. But the access is not restricted anymore, so….yeah.

Long live the sub

I’d really like to see the sub return- for one, i think it’s very good if players really have a choice- devs and “media” alike spin the free-to-play-phase of online gaming as being full of options, but in reality, when i don’t want to see an ingame store in my themepark MMO i’m out of options- except for Warhammer Online. Soon we’ll be able to add FF14 ARR to that list, and considering that the main market for this game is in Japan and free-to-play is not really big there, we can assume FF14 is going to stay sub based.

Then there’ll come Wildstar and TESO (probably), maybe ArcheAge. And it could work- it could even work well, if the devs and publishers finally stopped chasing World of Warcraft. When the devs stop pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the development of one game and stop expecting and/or trying to get millions of subscribers. When they know there’ll be a dip in player population and aren’t afraid to go and build up from there. And when they stick to their business model. Nobody’s waiting for EVE to go free-to-play, and that’s because it’s not likely to happen.

The rise and fall of free-to-play

It’s been predicted elsewhere, the impending doom for this payment model- and i tend to agree somehow. Going free-to-play used to be some kind of second chance and the numbers reported from the games that underwent the transition early after going f2p are always quite high- they double the subscriptions, quadruple the logins, triple revenue. But after some time, there’s always silence. I don’t think this is because the games are losing money 6 months after the transition, i think it might be because the numbers are getting more complicated- maybe the player counts are the same as before the transition, but the average of money spent in game has gone up. Or maybe it’s because player numbers and revenue went down compared to when the game in question was a sub game.

It’s odd, i can remember Daglar (from Rift) being in a podcast shortly after Rift went f2p. He said the numbers are way higher than they expected but he didn’t want to share those because the marketing departement was preparing an announcement regarding numbers and he didn’t want to spoil it. Funny enough, we still didn’t hear those numbers, the news of yesterday coming closest- and this is literally one sentence, without numbers.

I think we’ll see that free-to-play is not the saviour of MMORPGs in this or the coming year, when closures will begin to happen. Free-to-play used to be an USP, but now that everyone is f2p, it’s not anymore. One could argue that p2p is becoming a new USP, but those who use it that way should be aware that this is a pro-argument only for a minority nowadays.

Time to play

Funny enough, i think players like me are the problem here- and that’s one reason why i’d like to change my behaviour- when you look at the daily grind from massively where they asked how much time people spend daily on MMORPGs, i was surprised to see that many answered along the lines of “not as much as i used to” and “about 1-3 hours a day”. In the announcement article of Wildstars business model (many comments there), some commentors expressed their dislike for the sub model by saying that they played too many games to justify a sub for one game.

Combine these two statements- less total time spent in more games- and there’s the answer for MMORPG design these days. It’s not the devs, it’s us. Now, if we are happy with that, there’s no need to change anything. If we’d like to see the design philosophy of MMORPGs shift again, and many of us are looking for that one game that grabs their attention for years, we need to make a conscious decision that we want that kind of game- and stop worrying for the others.

We shouldn’t complain if MMORPGs are getting shallower with time, are experienced quicker, stop adding “meaningful” content (whatever this is to you) when we hop around in games like bunnies- when we make schedules regarding what game to play on what weekday. Of course developers will adapt to our behaviour, and some will even put it to good use, just like Arenanet does with Guild Wars 2. With their biweekly-living-story update, their game is in the news all the timePlayers like me read those news and begin thinking that they’ll miss something when they don’t log in and get the impression that there’s something going on all the time. GW2 has a good chance to get those casuals to log in at least on a biweekly basis. And the game’s perfect for that, there’s no sub fee, there’s only one toolbar and almost no text in the game. There’s no need to “catch up” to what you were doing last time, you can just go ahead.

I think, this shift in design might have opened up a niche: the game for players that only want to play one game- if the game in question can be that, the players won’t have any problem paying for a subscription again. And sub games have one advantage: nowadays it’s really refreshing to enter a game where you can unlock bank space without seeing any sign of being able to do so with a real money investment.

Conclusion

The subscription could be coming back- when the game in question is designed in a way to encourage a dedicated, longterm stay and the developer is aware that many will buy their game, some will try and “defeat” the game in 30 days, some will sub for one or three months after the initial 30 days of game time, many subs will be lost after 6 months and they are willing to build up from there instead of the number of sales and if they target their market well and stick to their design philosophy, there’s a good chance the subscription system can work.

And, i think it would help a sub game greatly if they remove the upfront cost of buying the game. EVE is 20€ when you start playing- that’s 5€ for the client/account and 15€ for a one-month sub. I think this is a good way to go- charge a sub, but give the client out for (almost) nothing.

If Wildstar or TESO will mark the return of the sub into MMORP gaming remains to be seen, though.