Goals for April in Gaming and Meta

Hey, if it works for others, it might be helpful to me, as well. Unfortunately, i’m still recovering a bit from jetlag, so i haven’t played anything since our return from China. I can’t remember jetlag being so bad in the past, but this time, it really got me. Our son, as well. Anyways, i’d like to put some gaming goals for april in writing- i’m very eager to jump back into Elder Scrolls Online, sort out the website a bit and have a few thoughts about our guild i’d like to put in motion this month.

 

ESO_logo-black

Elder Scrolls Online

First of all, i’m very glad that i chose to go the subscription route with this game. Because those cosmetic items, mounts and pets coming this month? I like them very much. Going with a subscription means i don’t have to keep a keen eye on my crowns and am free to spend them for fluff. And that’s without going for the assistants.

A few words on their pricing. Yes, they’re quite expensive, coming in at 5000 crowns each. But i actually like that for a few reasons. First of all, inventory management is part of the game, albeit an annoying one, the game was designed with us having to sort out mats we don’t need, connect to other players to sell them etc. The assistants are actually something that, while it doesn’t come close to being “pay-to-win”, they’re giving buyers a lot of convenience. I can’t imagine many players will spend that much real money on the assistants- so i view them more as being some kind of subscriber reward. And if a few players decide to spend those 30$ each, all the better for the game from a financial point of view.

Here’s what i’d like to achieve in april:

Nuria Solstrum, Templar

  • reach level 30 (28 at the moment, so yes, i’m aiming low)
  • craft some kind of set for her

Naria Leotra, Dragon Knight

Last time on guild evening, we decided to tackle a dungeon, the Banished Cells. We were four, but we lacked a real tank, so i decided i’d try and tank with my magicka templar. As you might imagine, this didn’t work out so well. We finished the dungeon, but it took quite a few wipes, most of them on bosses, and i wasn’t really able to hold the mobs attention- at all. So i decided i’d roll a tank, which is a sign on how much i like the guild- usually, i avoid being the tank at all costs- tanks have to lead and they have a huge responsibility for their group. Doing that with strangers, i would be screamed at very quickly. With our guild, i have no troubles- they don’t care if they die 10 or 100 times in a dungeon.

  • figure out a way to skill her as tank/dps, stamina-based, of course
  • reach level 15 to be able to go into dungeons and use two weapons

Others

There are still three characters i’d like to build: a “cleric” type Templar that resembles a Paladin in terms of being able to take a hit as well as provide some healing, a leech healer Nightblade and perhaps even a dedicated healer. Don’t know if they’ll take of this month, but it might happen.

Other games

I’d also like to visit other games at least one or two times this month. Black Desert Online is all the rage these months, and i do want to go out and explore more of its world and features. The Secret World remains my favourite game i never seem to play- i’d love to see all it has to offer, but somehow, i never really play it.

Our guild

We’re still doing fine, thank you. Our growth came a bit to a stop, mainly because we didn’t advertise much and the new recruits seem to have lost interest either in the game or the community. At least they’re not vocal in our forums. So we might have to say goodbye to some of them. But that’s really just par for the course- when creating a guild, you’ll always have people losing interest in the game or the guild; it’s very important to keep sorting them out if your goal is to build a small, tight-knit community.

With the guild, i’d like to:

  • have a guild meeting
  • tackle another dungeon or two
  • have a social event (i’d like to do a crafter’s market but i’m still figuring out the best way to do it)
  • see if we can decide for a short-term and middle-term course in terms of growth and our homepage

Wait, what? Yes, while being in China my thoughts ventured out into thinking about whether Enjin does meet our needs. It’s a similar thought process i had with my old blog- the longer we stay with Enjin, the harder it will be to move. And it’s not like it looks very good- the design seems a bit outdated and it’s not responsive- you’ll get the “normal” website when visiting from smartphone/tablet. Also, it comes in at 8$ per month. Compare that to the 0.50€ per month to get a domain.

discord

And then there’s Discord, where i finally understood what it is thanks to a post from Belghast on gamer social media. It’s a free voice chat app with added text chat and mobile as well as desktop apps. I can totally see a homepage working on the basis of wordpress, a forum plugin and Discord working much better for us- especially in terms of recruiting players. It could look better and provide more opportunities to socialize and put us on display on our homepage.

The blog and Meta

Blog

There’s a few things i still need to work out here- i think, this time i’ve settled for a theme- but i’d like to make use of its “magazine home page” as well as add a menu to seperate MMO and real life/other media stuff a bit more. I’d also like to give out the opportunity for feed-subscribers as well as normal readers here to make a choice of what they’re interested in. I really don’t think everyone who’s reading my MMO ramblings is really interested in what i watch or the latest China pictures. Speaking of which, i need to draft these posts i planned to write about it quickly, before i forget half the things that happened there and impressions blur a bit.

 

anook

Meta

Again, thanks to Belghast, i’d like to make some effort into going to Anook. I like the idea of a social network for gamers, especially as i’m making more and more connections with other bloggers and players. Discord is another thing. Well, i’ve added both contact information to the group up page, so feel free to add me to your friendslist or some such (really need to take a better look at Anook).

And i’d like to up my commenting on other blogs.

Final words: i was really surprised by the positive reaction on yesterday’s post. Thanks to all of you for your encouragement, kind words and well…being generally simply nice people!

 

Why i love reading your MMO blog

Professional Blogging

Have i mentioned how much i like the Global Chat column on Massively Overpowered? I think it was the first one that started featuring blog posts of “regular people bloggers” on the more respected sites relating to our genre. Liore did something like that on mmorpg.com a while back, but i think that this column was discontinued- it’s hard to tell with mmorpg.com’s way of organizing their content. Then there were Murph and Belghast, doing their thing on MMOGames.com, but i think that one was discontinued, as well.

Massively Overpowered, MMOGames.com and MMORPG.com- what do they have in common? They’re more or less branding themselves as “professional bloggers”, if you will. Their staff gets paid (i think) for their posts and they have a big audience. The strengths and weaknesses of each one of these sites can very well be a post on its own (one i started to draft several times already).

In short i would say MMOGames.com has the most potential of the three and has taken several great bloggers in, but its informational structure simply isn’t quite there yet. Still, the site reminds me of reasons i used to really love Massively in 2010/2011: its’ authors are bloggers who love their games and are quite stable in their selection of MMORPG they play. With a little more continuity and a better structure/home page and less crappy games on their sidebar, this site could be great.

MMORPG.com is a mess- the site looks outdated, i can see no structure in their content and navigation whatsoever. It’s even hard to discern which games they cover, as they have adopted RPGs along with multiplayer games. While i do like some of their authors and commentors, this site needs a do-over badly. They promised being close to launching a new layout when Massively closed last year- possibly as a way of trying to catch some of that audience, but it still hasn’t happened.

As for Massively Overpowered, it’s the most professional of the three. The layout (despite being at least based on a free WordPress template) is clear and functional, as is the navigational and informational structure. The authors know how to write and, at least in my opinion, have a very professional stance. However, i feel it has developed to a news site more than a “blogger site”. Even their game-specific columns are oftentimes more about news relating to the games than, well, describing gameplay experience, the lore or whathaveyou (exceptions being Anatoli’s old Guild Wars 2 column and the new Black Desert column by Matt Daniel).

Are bloggers full of themselves?

All the more happy i am when Massively Overpowered does something “bloggy”, like featuring content of “regular people bloggers”, highlighting podcasts or something similar. I am, of course, happy if/when i or someone else i’m close with gets a mention there, but i’ve read some interesting comments in the last two i was mentioned in, as well.

It must have been the topics at hand (future of MMORPGs and Black Desert impressions earlier), with the latter seemingly counter to popular opinion- the quotes, despite being well-chosen, made the impressions seem worse than they were- so we got a lot of “how dare these bloggers have a different opinion than i?” comments and the former with being positive outlooks on the MMORPG genre as a whole or Daybreaks…stuff…in particular, where we got the “why are bloggers perceived as special?” and “why do they think they’re special?”-treatment.

Well, i’m kind of new in this whole thing, not very deeply connected to others from the blogosphere and not a popular blog by far, especially here on the new site, so these comments still kind of get to me- no, i don’t think i’m special or my opinion matters more than that of, say, a commentor on Massively Overpowered or on a forum or reddit. I’m simply adding one layer of personal enjoyment and community building on something i enjoy without that part. And i’m pretty sure that’s more or less what every one of them does- adding something, in this case writing, to their hobby.

Why i love reading your MMORPG blog

Perspective

MMORPGs can be played in many different ways- maybe you enjoy dungeon runs, or roleplaying, or questing. Maybe you care about the lore, the quest-givers, your guild, pvp, gear or costumes. Maybe your thing is the economy, crafting or even horse-breeding. Whatever it is that gives you the most enjoyment in these games, chances are that it’s not exactly the same thing that i enjoy most. But maybe i’ll like to read about it or try dabbling in it myself to see if i might enjoy it. Or you’ll give some inspiration regarding ideas i could use in our small guild.

Opinion

Is the MMO genre dead? Could Daybreaks hickups result in something good for Everquest 2? Is that game/ingame shop/game “pay to win”? Is pay-to-win even possible? I don’t know, but i sure have an opinion on most of these topics. Some Oftentimes it’s not a well-founded or 100% thought through opinion, so i love reading what other people think, especially when it’s about games of minor interest to me.

Games

Speaking of games, some of you are seducers, writing great posts about games i might have crossed off my list or didn’t have on my radar, and your excitement is contagious. Maybe i’ll send you a bill for the next purchase 😉 But you could be playing a game i love to read about or i didn’t keep in touch with and i’m wondering what impact some new feature/expansion/content has on players who stuck with that game and you’ll offer some insight. It’s really not about the game someone’s playing, as they’re in the same genre anyway and some stuff that works in, say, World of Warcraft, might be transferrable to a similar experience in Black Desert, for instance.

Personality

Some of you, i can only admire for your writing capabilities. I tend to babble a lot- many of you are able to write short, concise blog posts and still inflict your personality and character into your posts. There are bloggers who cut their content’s word count by half and their posts seem to be of the same or better quality, and have the same amount or more personality and character as before. Sometimes, you’ll even share some aspect of your real life, and some of you make it a point to blog about your real lives quite often and in the same posts you deal with your gaming life.

Community

As i’ve said, i’m not deeply connected. Sometimes i think that’s my fault, for not being able to put personality/character in writing, sometimes i think it could be a location/time-zone/server location-issue. But i can see connections all over- people commenting on each others’ blogs, ping-ponging blogging topics, creating guilds, organizing blogging events and so on. And i’ve also made a few connections via blogging that i do value very much.

So that’s why i love reading your MMORPG blog and hope you enjoy writing it as much as i do reading it.

And i’d like to point you to my Blogroll– i’m not sure if i’ll stay with this one, but it is the one i like the most right now because i can include as much as i want. It might still need some configuration, but this is just too good a moment to let it pass.

Travel Log: China (overview)

Yesterday we’ve returned from our annual trip to China. This year was good for a lot of reasons: everybody was doing quite ok, nobody was in hospital and we have actually done some interesting things like seeing a “Venice-like” village, visiting a bamboo forest, taking a boat trip on the West Lake, Hangzhou and went to Shanghai for a night. The downsides were the air quality- Hangzhou is preparing for the G20 summit that happens in september and i think they’re quite literally rebuilding the whole city for that event, so there were a lot- and i do mean a lot- construction sites that, aided the usual traffic chaos in terms of dusty air. But that was all, really- everything else was great.

In fact, it was so interesting that i decided to do more than one post on the subject- but i wanted to get something quick out while recovering from the jetlag. As an appetizer, here are a few pictures i took while being in China. I’ll get to everything in more detail soon ™.

Dual Wielding: is it dead yet?

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

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

Introduction- did that just happen?

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

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

Not in Azeroth anymore

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

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

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

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

Alone together

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

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

There’s my MMO in your shooter

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

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

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

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

Welcome back into my MMO, RPG!

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

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

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

It’s not

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

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

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

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

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

A quiet week

This week should have been big- really big. The Elder Scrolls’ Thieves Guild DLC launched, The Division launched and it is only week 2 of Black Desert Online. So there were three games i really like that needed my attention. And then…i decided to let it all pass me by.

It was a voluntary decision only in parts. I had planned a nice and fun guild activity for sunday evening and was looking forward to playing ESO with our small-but-still-growing community, when i woke up on sunday morning only to vomit six times in a row. I don’t know why i did, maybe i ate something icky, but i know it knocked me out. The rest of the day went by in a blur, i basically slept the whole day, got sick a few more times, tried to read some stories to our son and subsequently fell asleep doing that. At one point i managed to get up and post a message on the guild’s forum that i couldn’t make it- a message of two sentences, which is very unusual for me, and went back to bed. While i did get better on monday, i still didn’t feel too well and chose to go to bed early. This continued throughout the week- i did take a look at The Division but i’ve only managed to get to the base of operations by now. In this hugely exciting week i chose to take a break from gaming, and get good night’s sleep and rest. Today, on friday, i feel good. Just in time- tonight we’ll be taking a look at Hew’s Bane in Elder Scrolls Online. If someone turns up, that is.

The Guilt

One thing that has been a constant throughout the several attempts at creating and starting a guild up is that i love scheduled activities. When i log into a game, i’m usually not a very group-friendly player, because i need a few days to be in the right state of mind and in the right environment to set aside a fixed amount of time for being in a game. I love socializing in MMOs, but i do it in an “organized” manner by submitting an idea to the guild, setting a date and time, plan a bit and then make it happen. Usually, these events are received very positively by other guild members and frankly, i think they are what holds such a community together. The problem is this: in almost all cases, i’m the only one organizing these events and this fact leads to me feeling a lot of pressure. I’ll try and set these things up weekly/biweekly, but when something happens and i can’t make it, there’s a lot of silence. And when i need to cancel something, i feel like it sends a message to the other guildmembers, namely that “this isn’t important”. While it is true that i don’t really care if three, four or eight people turn up for a night of gaming, when people receive that message, it will at some point happen that no one turns up- or only one other person. Often, i haven’t been able to “bounce back” after such an event.

thieves_guild

So that’s what worries me right now- that, after i got sick just before the last two events – on the first occasion, i did turn up but had to shorten it quite a bit, tonight only few people will turn up. With our family going to China for two weeks on tuesday, this low attendance event might be followed by two weeks of silence. I’ll have to see how to pick things up again when i’m back. Or maybe i’m wrong, as i can also totally see 4-6 people logging on tonight. We’ll have to wait and see tonight.

After returning from China, i set up a dungeon running night- and that’s a strange one for me, because usually i plan these nights for all levels and all numbers of participants- and i can’t do that with dungeons, because the group size is four. But with the new grouping tools Elder Scrolls Online now supports, i think it is time to start the dungeon-delving.

Other than that, things are going great in the community- we took two recruits in as members and recruited two more players into our ranks- we are now just one player short of the guild bank. In terms of speed and amount of growth, it is turning out just as we hoped it would, which is nice.

Travel Log: Reaching Velia

I have switched to the Valkyrie and have arrived in Velia. And i have to confess, since then, i’m in love with Black Desert Online. The Valkyrie proved to be so much fun that i simply cut my way through the Beetles, Weasels, Foxes, Wolves and Imps surrounding Olvia- reaching level 10 was a matter of 20 minutes. I decided to claim my preorder goodies for her, but they haven’t arrived yet. With the preorder pack i chose, i could select a whole set of furniture (i went with fleece) and a pet. Normally, i am a cat person- but there was no cat resembling our RL cat, and i think it’s not really in cats’ nature to follow people around wherever they go, i went with a dog. I chose the “Naughty Dog”, because i thought it’s a basset hound (not convinced anymore but there’s some similarity, at least) and i’m a huge fan of the tv series “Columbo”. I might call him “dog”, too- but i won’t carry him around like Columbo did.

Naughty-Dog

columbo

It seems i can’t take quests with an Alt that are currently “active” on another character- besides the main storyline, of course. The Valkyrie didn’t do the same quests as the Witch did before her, for whatever reason. In the end, it made her progress much quicker. Arriving in Velia, i realized that everything before was more or less a tutorial. Velia was the first place where my quest log rose above five available quests. It was also the first village where i got a fishing quest and a trading quest. I got more contribution points while spending half an hour there than in all that time leading up to it. Now i actually have some left to spend.

And it was sprawling with people. Unfortunately i didn’t take a screen of it, but the coastline with all these players fishing was a sight to be seen. The roads are busier, too. Not only with players- there are men transporting…something. They’re NPCs and i’ve seen them before, but now? The roads are full of them- so i guess this is player-influenced. These guys either transport trade goods or materials- or are someone’s workers- or they transport players’ stuff from town to town when they move. It’s the first time i think the game is “opening up”, and it’s great to see. As is the general art design- these villages actually seem like villages, beaches look just like they’re supposed to look and the water…well, jumping in you can almost feel the refreshment in provides in the heat of a mediterranean afternoon.

I’m still not far along and don’t understand much, and until i do, i’ll reserve judgement. But for now…BDO remains very immersive and interesting- as BDO does so many things different than other MMOs, it’s a joy to feel lost and explore (land and mechanics) again.

Black Desert Online and the missing need for a saviour

For years- it must be six now- i’ve been looking for that “one” MMORPG experience. Some times, i thought i had found it- in Guild Wars 2 and ArcheAge, for example. That was pre-release, of course, as games are often perfect on paper and rarely on screen. What i was looking for is simple- an MMORPG that gives reason to living in the world, offers the opportunity to simply being a crafter or trader, removes instanced content completely and has regionally different pricing of goods as well as item decay. Were i still in that exact spot in my life both real and virtual, i would rejoice right now and welcome Black Desert Online as my new MMO home. I don’t, though, and it’s not the fault of the game. I’m still early in this (~7 hours /played) and my current situation is still the same Syl describes, but i have to say if that itch was still itching, BDO might just have made it stop.

Of course i’m wary- i was before release and still am. What if all these systems are actually quite shallow, as i’ve read somewhere (of course)? What if the cash shop gets worse? Actually, that’s not a question of possibility but time, in my opinion. As far as i know, all cash shops get “worse” over time. I can’t think of any example where a cash shop that started decent held this position forever. Elder Scrolls Online comes close, but in the end of march, it will introduce assistants- a banker and a merchant you can buy in the cash shop that will come out in the wild for you. In a game where inventory management still is a huge part of the gameplay experience, this is, of course, convenient and not pay-to-win, but it still signals a parting from only selling cosmetic stuff. But i’m not worried about all that- i don’t play any game competitively, so i don’t care if you need to buy stuff from the cash shop to be in the top 1%. But still, it might happen.

Before release, i didn’t really look into Black Desert Online. First it was because it was only announced in Korea and i didn’t want to put my hopes up like i did with ArcheAge and wait 3 years for the game to be released. Then, when it was clear it would come in the forseeable future, it was because i didn’t want another ArcheAge. It seems BDO avoids the mistakes that made ArcheAge sour for me: hacking, landgrabbing, cheating. I didn’t care for the business model, not even for the pay-to-win stuff that was available shortly after launch- what killed any desire in me to play it was the fact that, in the end, i was paying a sub to being able to craft and own land without the possibility to do so, because other players were cheating.

In BDO, housing is instanced and hacks don’t seem to play such a huge role. I also don’t need to subscribe to be able to craft or own houses. So by my accounts, it’s fine.

Not looking for the saviour anymore

What it comes down to is this: my expectations are different now. I don’t expect MMORPGs to provide that whole virtual world experience anymore. Sure, i prefer it, but it can come in so many varieties nowadays that i can’t point a finger on something and say: THAT’S IT! Take Elder Scrolls Online, for example- it’s not a sandbox by any means, but compare it to my feature-wishlist, it’s only really lacking in the non-combat-department. Instead, it offers interesting stories while questing, the ability to build the character in almost any way i want, not an open world, but very open zones and an interesting crafting system. It also encourages social activity by removing global auction houses.

And i'd love to play The Secret World, as well.
And i’d love to play The Secret World, as well.

It was surprising to me, but i’m happy in Elder Scrolls Online and like the experience it provides very much- this is a game that i like better on screen than on paper. I think this is key in the whole “manage your expectations”-theme: if you read something, you’ll inject your own ideas into vague marketing/hype statements. In your mind, you’ll make it seem even better than what the devs actually tell you (this goes the other way, too- if you dislike something about an announcement, you’ll make it seem worse than it is). ESO fits into everything- my available time to play, my playstyle, my favourite pacing.

This week, when i was able to play, i had to make the difficult decision on whether to play Elder Scrolls or Black Desert Online. I’ve played multiple MMORPGs at the same time pretty much since free-to-play became a thing, but sometimes it was feeling more like the choice of a lesser evil- i’m exaggerating, of course, after all nobody forces me to play MMORPGs, or games. This time, it feels different, because i want to play both (and more, but to a lesser degree- looking at TSW and Blade&Soul here) at the same time. It’s different than last year- last year, i switched games because i was unhappy/not having fun with one for a longer period. This year, it seems there are too many choices where i do have fun.

My view on MMORPGs has pretty much shifted to me perceiving them as normal games instead of the special entity they used to be for me in the years past. And i think this is a compliment for the devs- at least a partial one. I’ve never found an MMORPGs gameplay very enticing- it sold its whole package to me. But with games like ESO and BDO- and soon even The Division- i think fun made an appearance in the genre (Guild Wars 2 and Blade&Soul also do fine in this regard).

All i’m saying is: i’m not looking for that saviour anymore- the game i’ll play exclusively in the coming 5 years, because i value diversity in the genre now. If i was, though, i think Black Desert Online would come close- on paper as well as what i see on screen right now.

Black Desert Online – earliest impressions

I can’t even do an “early impressions” post yet. Others are better in doing that, anyway. A few things i noted in my time with BDO so far:

  • the game doesn’t do a very good job in introducing you to its systems- for instance, i do know i can talk (it’s a conversation minigame, by the way) to NPCs, but i don’t really know why i should bother
  • this encourages exploration and wonder, so actually, i love that it doesn’t make everything so clear
  • the quests you do at around level 12-15 will offer a slow introduction to crafting
  • you can’t dry stuff when it’s night or cloudy – this game is highly immersive
  • there’s no fast travel- but there’s autorun; it’s the combination of these two elements that make this work
  • The night is dark and full of terrors (mobs are stronger and more aggressive in the night)
  • combat is fun- even with the Witch. Can’t wait to create my Valkyrie
  • you need to switch on all quest types in your Questlog (standard key: o ), elsewise the game will only mark NPCs with kill quests
  • inventory management. I carry all available tools with me- not a good strategy because i only have like 5 free inventory spaces when i venture out
  • it’s a beautiful game and a beautiful world that’s fully worth exploring

Conclusion? Right now, i love Black Desert Online and hate it for this love at the same time. As soon as possible, i’ll hook up with Massively Overpowered’s guild- my guess is that will improve the experience even further.

And next week, there’ll be The Division. Oh my…

Travel Log: Entering Greenshade

Last week i started venturing into Greenshade, but only entered Marbruk and did some guild quests there. Then Black Desert Online happened, so i gave it two nights to play around a bit. Yesterday and today, i wanted to venture out in Greenshade. It turned out that i didn’t get to quest at all yesterday because of a very active guild chat (we have two new recruits, raising our count to 9), so it had to be today. I did a main quest and then set forth to explore Greenshade a bit. After the amazing wood-zone of Grahtwood, the more open design in the beginning of Greenshade is a welcome change. Just like all the other zones, Greenshade seems to be beautifully designed. I like how the zones in Elder Scrolls Online are open and “realistic” while still being breathtaking almost all-around.

I have the task to bring these Bosmer clans here under the umbrella of the Aldmeri Dominion, so i went out to the first village and see what they wanted. They wanted me to drive an orc clan away. Difficulty is ramping up here- i wasn’t in any trouble, not by any means, but that orc clan area was quite full of orcs- don’t pay attention and you just might pull too many of them. I think it’s funny that Belghast did the same thing a few days ago and wrote about it yesterday, although i think he’s doing it in Veteran Ranks. Then i went and talked to that Wilderking of theirs. He’s strangely curious about someone who’s coming to kill him.

So for today i’ll leave you with a few screenshots of the area.

Does it have to be a sandbox?

The MMORPG industry is a slow one. When a trend emerges, it takes time for developers and/or publishers to react and release games incorporating said trends. The heavy years of “WoW clones” were 2007-2010 while for the players, at least those vocal enough to put their thoughts into writing, it was clear since 2009, at the latest, that they wanted something different. Back then, we weren’t all too sure about what we wanted- we wanted “different but familiar enough”, a vague statement. Games like Star Wars: the old Republic, The Secret World, Guild Wars 2 and Wildstar tried to find a comfortable spot. Since 2012, maybe 2013, with the announcement of ArcheAge and Everquest Next (haha), it seemed clear that players want MMOs to return to sandbox design. Slowly, this new batch of MMORPGs arrives: with ArcheAge last year, now Black Desert Online and soon Shroud of the Avatar, Camelot Unchained, Star Citizen, Shards Online, Albion, the Repopulation 2.0 and so on. MMORPGs seem to be going back into a niche and are happy for it, while MMOs are going ever more mainstream (The Division).

With Black Desert Online, there’s this odd discussion whether it truly is a sandbox or just a glorified themepark with a lack of content.

What is a “Sandbox”, anyway?

I’ve read that a “true sandbox” has to offer its players more freedom in terms of building structures in the world (although we all know that if they’d do that, we’d live in Dong-land).

The discussion about whether or not an MMORPG is a sandbox is quite old and done, really. Everybody who tackles this topic- and me too, will throw the definition of “sandbox” (Wikipedia even redirects to “open world”) out there: it’s about an open world instead of linear level design. Taking this definition verbatim, there are many MMORPGs that are a sandbox- namely all MMORPGs taking place in worlds without artificial barriers and invisible walls. That would be true for Rift or Wildstar, for example. While we all have different views on that, here’s the part of the definition that gets me:

Their main appeal is they provide a simulated reality and allow players to develop their character and its behavior in the direction of their choosing. In these cases, there is often no concrete goal or end to the game.

No concrete goal or end to the game. Let that sink in and think about the reaction something like this would get from MMO players- we’d be telling each others about missing endgame and a pointlessness of the leveling process and we’d be asking where the content is. On the other hand, having no concrete goal or end to the game is also standard operation for MMORPGs- you can play World of Warcraft for battle pets only, or for good-looking armor, or for achievements the auction house and so on. There are as many motivations to play this game as there are players. You could argue, of course, that you beat the game by beating whatever content is the “most difficult” in the game right now- but this still is not a defined ending.

I need to figure that focus-thing out for future screenshots.
I need to figure that focus-thing out for future screenshots.

Now, i do know that when MMO players debate about a game being a sandbox/themepark, they’re not talking about that definition shown above- because that definition doesn’t allow for much discussion in MMO space. I know that when we talk about “Themepark”, we talk about developer-created content taking the front seat. When we’re talking about “Sandboxes”, we think about player-created content and “emergent gameplay”, whatever that means. But even if we’d draw the lines there, things get blurry- is Neverwinter a sandbox, then? Because players can create content there- or are these players simply hobbyist-content-developers?

In the end, if you walk away from that Wikipedia definition of open world, no end, no goal, you will never come to an objective observation whether one game is a sandbox or not, with one exception: when a game gives players almost complete control of their environment (while providing some rules instead of content) like EVE does. But we don’t want EVE- at least the majority doesn’t, not even the majority of the vocal minority, while most of them state they do want a (pve-)sandbox. Giving players freedom also seems to include the ability for players to ruin other players’ enjoyment of a game.

I think the key here is in a small part of the definition cited above: simulated reality.

Simulated reality and options

Sandbox or Themepark doesn’t matter, really. What matters is if an MMORPG is trying to build a simulated reality / virtual world and provides players with options in how to spend time in the game: things like pve, housing, crafting, trade, fishing, pet and mount collection, character looks, character builds and yes, even pvp- they need to be central to the design of an MMORPG, because, MMORPGs are good because they provide all that- they’re basically a gaming genre-mix. When you take this into account, you will find that Everquest 2, an MMORPG of the “Themepark” subgenre, in the end offered more ways to play it than Darkfall or Mortal Online, both “Sandboxes” do.

Is Black Desert Online a Sandbox?

Is BDO a sandbox? For me, it’s too early to tell. Right now, i get the feeling that the best course of action would be to continue questing to finally arrive at a few quests that might teach me BDO’s many systems. A real sandbox would have to offer a significant player economy, as well- at least in MMOs. You’ll have trade as an option in Black Desert Online- trade, that is- as in ArcheAge- about transporting special goods from one place to the other and buying/selling to NPCs.

The furniture merchant in Olvia
The furniture merchant in Olvia

I’m only level 11 and i’m already able to trade, go fishing, collecting, milk cows (a daily quest), go mob grinding or questing or simply explore the world. However, i do feel that i need to reach Heidel City for the game to truly open up. And i think Black Desert is a game where having Alts makes life a lot easier. So these are my plans in that game for now: reaching Heidel City through questing with Nuria, the Witch and then go and create the Valkyrie. Although i feel “on rails” in this part of the game, i’m convinced that by the time i reach level 50 at the latest- and it seems to only take a double-digit number of hours /played- i’ll be free to play the game in the way i want to.

/Saved: Black Desert, Cash shops, thinking in MMOs and goodbyes

There’s a lot to share this week, as we can take a closer look at Black Desert Online and The Division. There are also some opinion pieces on cash shops in general or Black Desert’s offerings in particular. There’s talk about unnecessary game systems as well as thinking in MMORPGs- and a goodbye-post, as well.

General Chat

Did MMORPGs make their players think more in their earlier incarnations? That’s a discussion i followed when it was started- at least in my Feedly, by Bhaguss, who feels that things like “local knowledge” and combat behaviour are made too easy or are missing in modern MMOs. There is a polite answer by Jeromai, who is of the opinion that games still require putting thought into it and that this is where “skill” comes from. He’s writing that it takes time and the will from the part of the players to put this thought in and that you could put thought into combat even in action combat games before/after a fight. I guess this is where Telwyn’s post comes in, stating that in faster combat, thoughts have to be made up faster, as well, and this would put a gap between players. Telwyn therefore prefers slower combat titles. My opinion in short form: i think “local knowledge” is still there, in games like Elder Scrolls and Black Desert, and while i do prefer slower combat, right now i don’t have any hotbar-combat-MMOs in my rotation- but i think ESO, for instance, has a very good combat pace to also make thought possible in fights. I do agree, however, that there are MMOs where combat feels…well, like a time-waster, actually. I could name one hotbar-combat-game and one action-combat-game where i find the combat to be utterly boring- but i won’t.

Sometimes i save up posts much later than they were written- i don’t know why, but Roger Edwards “farewell” to Lord of the Rings Online slipped into this week. I find it sad, actually, when a game you used to play and like suddenly- or slowly- changes in ways you don’t approve or maybe it’s not only the game that changed but you, as well. In the end it doesn’t matter, saying goodbye has to be tough. On the other hand it can also be liberating- this time last year, i was following news from a lot of games- from Lotro to Rift, Wildstar and WoW over to ArcheAge, FF14 and SWTOR. And everytime there was a new patch i was tempted to join back in. This year, not so much. I’ve pretty much closed the files on all of them and, while i’m still not a “one MMO” type of player and will probably never be one- i feel i can handle the current roster.

I followed Aywren’s journey to becoming a mentor in FF14. I think she was aiming to become a mentor from the moment the program was announced. It’s basically a program where experienced players help newbies out. Most people who opt into such a program do so because they love the game, they love the community and they want to “give something back”. I saw this in Fallen Earth, where a chat channel is maintained just for helping new players out. As with many things, becoming a mentor in FF14 is a huge time-sink (it’s a subscription game, after all), but luckily, for Aywren, there was a way to become mentor by way of crafting instead of doing a few hundred dungeon runs. So she went that route- only to find out that she couldn’t mentor, after all, because she needs to do ALL THE DUNGEONS. Now i don’t know the inner workings here, but to me, that’s simply not right.

Meanwhile, Syp wrote about the AEGIS system in TSW’s Tokyo– well that and similar systems, and Rowan Blaze agrees. It seems so do many others, linked in the second post. I am not far enough into TSW to offer my opinion on that, specifically, but i have to say that it is the one thing i’d be very unhappy to have to go through when reaching Tokyo. Just like ESO’s “silver/gold campaigns” where you have to play the other factions’ content as well, this is something that makes me not wanting to reach that point in the game. I also dislike systems that are used for one expansion cycle only and replaced later on.

Cash shops, generally and in BDO

Liore has to be mentioned first with her great post on how she’s fed up with cash shops. And i totally agree- they’ve reached a point where they’re simply annoying, and it’s not only because the things that are monetized. For me, i’m getting tired of trying to figure out the stuff i “need” to buy. You can play SWTOR as a preferred player, buy a few unlocks and you’ll be pretty much free to enjoy the game without a subscription. Trying to figure out what it takes, though, is boring. When cash shops offer a lot of virtual goods, i find that i’m unlikely to browse through it all and buy something- i like them clean like Elder Scrolls Online’s shop is, for instance.

Weighing in on Black Desert’s cash shop, Ironweakness writes that instead of being angry at the prices for costumes in BDO, he’ll simply refrain from buying them. Isaari takes a look at how the playerbase plays down pay-to-win elements in BDO.

Black Desert Online

Here’s a nice guide on trading in Black Desert Online, written by Scopique on Levelcapped. It gives a basic idea on how all this stuff works.

http://www.levelcapped.com/2016/02/26/black-desert-online-interstate-commerce/

Syl takes a look at whether you should play BDO as a PvE-player. She thinks it’s worth it, mentioning that player killing gives huge karma penalties and that ganking should be a rare occurence.

Prettylittlesith puts away the Dark Side of the Force and shares her opinion on the Black Desert Online Beta.

The Division

Continuing from before, we still have a few impression pieces of The Division’s Open Beta, generally very positive in their nature, so i’ll give a simple list.

The Division Beta

Updated: The Division BETA Thoughts

Cheating on WoW: The Division Beta

Travel Log: wrapping up Grahtwood

Yesterday i finally had/took the time to wrap up Grahtwood, the level 16-24 area for Aldmeri Dominion in Elder Scrolls Online. Nuria has been in Grahtwood, well, for almost 2 years, i suppose, as it was one of the characters i created back when the game launched. I can’t tell you how many hours of /played it took to finish it, but what i am able to tell you is that it was a memorable experience.

I do remember when i first got there. Not in too much detail, but i remember how difficult i found it to be. It’s not often that you’ll find standard open-world content difficult in MMORPGs- here, coming to Grahtwood with a fresh level 16 character, it was as much an unwelcoming place as the quest lore made it out to be. It was grim, and i’ve found some quest very confusing- i can’t remember which one, anymore, but somehow, something put me to a stop in the game. I know i loathed the inventory minigame even more back then, because ESO was still asking for a subscription at that time and i felt it was one of those time-wasters designed to make you sub longer. Around that time, i decided to discontinue playing the game.

When i returned a couple of times to check the game out again, i did what i always do: create a new character to play because i had forgotten about the old one. So i didn’t see the Grahtwood anymore, until our guild decided to side with the Aldmeri Dominion and i was looking at either continuing Nuria or create another new character. As i have been playing the game in our premade group up to level 8, i felt i could tackle a level 19 character of the same class- after all, there had been a skill reset in the meantime and i had a general idea on what to do with the character.

Laeloria

It wasn’t easy, though. I still had to struggle through getting to know the character and the situation she found herself in. And, after all that time and despite really liking the Daggerfall Covenant zones and quest-related stories, it’s Grahtwood where i fell in love with the game again. And it was a quest.

The watcher in the Treehouse, again.
The watcher in the Treehouse, again.

Laeloria. I don’t know what it was about this quest- i guess it was all a happy coincidence. First, i saw the building you can see in the background of the screenshot above. I made a mental note to take a look later. While travelling around, at some point i saw a Treehouse and decided to climb it, as i knew it would offer some kind of view. Arriving there, i received the quest- freeing some captured soul from Coldharbour- and the Watcher told me more. How someone already ventured in to free that soul, how she told him to watch the beacon and pay attention if/when it turned to a red light. I was enthralled, because i wondered if it would, indeed, turn red and thereby ending the century-long wait for that Watcher. So now Laeloria was more than a building i wanted to explore at some point- it was encased in the lore of the Watcher and the liberation of not one, but two individuals and finally even in the mystery of the beacon. That’s a normal side-quest, mind you. It’s not even a very uncommon theme here- freeing people from a dangerous place often is the motivation for the player character to venture in, after all. But for some reason, all these elements clicked for me. Better yet, that wasn’t even all there is to Laeloria.

Statue of Azura in Laeloria.
Statue of Azura in Laeloria.

Azura, a Daedra that’s not even viewed as being as evil as the others, is in this whole scheme, as well. As is a demon, but i didn’t like that one very much. It’s this quest that will me- or my character, at least- have a “special” connection to Azura from then on. Now, i don’t know anything much about the lore of Elder Scrolls games and Elder Scrolls Online in particular- it’s a gap i plan to fill at some point, also because of this quest and Azura.

Exploring Laeloria was very satisfying and i wasn’t disappointed, of course. After all that tension building up around this place it did deliver on it, after all. Did the beacon turn red? Well, you’ll have to take a look yourself.

Grahtwood

The zone has to offer much more and it’s actually quite diverse, even though the theme never changes from being a wood. There are Bosmer villages made of trees and acorns, i guess. There are Altmer villages, ruins and embassies, there are open spaces as well as dark woods/rough terrain. It’s not easy to navigate while still being open enough to not make it an annoyance.

There’s a dungeon, of course- Elder Hollows, and it is nice to look at, indeed. The main storyline in Grahtwood revolves around preventing a revolution in Bosmer ranks and getting Ayrenn to do some kind of ceremony to prove she truly is a fitting leader for the Dominion. There’s a bit of betrayal, drama and magic mystery involved, as well as a funny twist on vegetarism- Bosmer don’t eat plants and you’ll be reminded of that several times – i really liked getting through the questing in Grahtwood.

I’ve seen strange places like that “Garden of Flesh” in the Reliquary of Stars and followed gruesome tales of unreturned love. Memorable, i guess, is the right word. In the end, after getting that quest achievement, there were 2 delves, 3 Skyshards and one “eye” left to explore- that’s what i did last night.

In retrospective, with a zone as large as the Grahtwood is, the slow leveling in Elder Scrolls Online and all the real-time involved here- even if i were only counting the time since i returned to that character- it truly feels like an epic experience, a journey. So now, i’m off to Greenshade- looking forward to explore that place. I’ll leave you with some shots i took during my travels.

 

What is grind?

I’ve read an opinion piece about some grind not being a bad thing on Tentonhammer and it made me think: first and foremost, the first example mentioned in the article- Wildstar’s early attunement process for raids – that’s not a grind, and if/when you became attuned, you haven’t accomplished anything- what you did was unlocking a game feature.

Locking game features behind “grind” or another lengthy process of doing stuff in game is not a good idea in a genre whose audience gets older fast. See, we might want to raid, and we want to do it as soon as possible- making us play 200 hours before allowing us to do what we deem fun is not good game design. “Being able to access raids” is not an ingame goal- “being ready to tackle raids” might be- and for the last one, it can take a couple of hours.

Black Desert Online will release in little more than a week- and i’ll be able to log in in a week’s time. “The Grind” seems to be something a portion of the playerbase is worried about- and that’s the part where i agree with the opinion piece linked above- “Grind” is not a thing that has me worried- see, if i’m having fun killing and skinning wolves, for example, i will at some point in my career kill 1000 of them to get the 100 wolf furs i need to make the beige blanket for that giant in the hill to gain reputation with him to be able to buy his recipe for a fast-growth-elixir. It can also provide a goal to aim for. Sure, sometimes the amount needed to achieve something seems to be high and can suck the fun out of a game, but in my experience, this is mostly because one of the following reasons:

  1. this is your current goal and the only one you follow. Therefore, it get’s highly repetetive and annoying
  2. all of the goals are achieved in a similar manner
  3. there are no other similar goals provided
Using ArcheAge screens here as i have none from BDO yet
These fields used to be planted by identical trees at some point- everyone who had a farming spot would grow them to achieve the same goal as their neighbour. (AA screens, as i have none from BDO yet)

I’ve found that, in general, the pacing of a game is a huge factor in determining my own enjoyment- i need to be able to take it slow and take in the world, or maybe even simply hang out; i need to be able and ramp things up and maybe run a group dungeon and so on. If a game offers one pace only- Wildstar would be one example for that, and Lotro & FF14 might be examples of the slow extreme- it gets boring quickly. Lotro is the one game i refer to as a “quest grinder”- there’s not much else to do than quest. It’s entirely possible that this is just my subjective way of looking at things in Lotro- but i’ve always felt this game is just a very long chain of quests. So if Black Desert doesn’t provide (much) quest xp, we know this is not really an issue because you can gain contribution points to spend on houses and the like. Likewise, simply grinding out mobs will give you “knowledge”. So, to me, it seems as if there’s something provided for different paces of gameplay. Without fast travel, i’m pretty sure exploration will also be a big part of the game, and then there’s crafting, trading, fishing and so on- all providing different gameplay mechanics and speeds.

MMOs nowadays also have to provide goals to set out for in different dimensions: i need to get something noteworthy done in 30 minutes, 2 hours, a day, a week, a month and if the designers are ambitious, even in a year. So maybe that giant could also take handkerchiefs made out of 2 wolf furs you could reasonably get by killing 20 wolves to raise reputation accordingly. Maybe a boat doesn’t have to be built at once, but by combining 4-5 parts that you can – or have to- create before assembling them to one. Here’s also where the usual mention of sandboxes not being for casuals comes from- what serves some players as a goal for a week, it serves others as a goal for a session. For instance, this week i’d like to finally finish off Grahtwood in Elder Scrolls Online- there are a few Skyshards and Delves left and i want to explore a place that was pointed out on a map i’ve found on a mob. This might take, all in all, one session of maybe 3-4 hours, and i’m sure someone would be able to do it in an hour. When each session gets shorter- maybe i’ll do only one skyshard and one delve in each, this could take even longer. But i can still achieve something in 30 minutes (one delve or one skyshard) and will feel as if i had accomplished something in that session. I really don’t care if it’ll take me a year to construct a boat- if i can work towards it in short sessions, as well.

If we're all doing the same anyway, there's no need for a game to be an MMO.
If we’re all doing the same anyway, there’s no need for a game to be an MMO.

I don’t really know how good or bad Black Desert does in this regard, but i do hope they had something like this in mind when creating the game, but since i’ve read somewhere that setting things up this way is basically MMORPG creation 101, i’m sure they did. Then again- why do so many games still get it wrong?

As a sidenote: i think both of these points are what makes me so happy with ESO right now- disregarding the inventory management minigame that takes away at least 15 minutes of each of my sessions, i can set a pace and goals for each session, hour and week (i don’t have the insight into the game for even longer term goals yet) that fits in my playstyle and current mood.