Games and content

Here I* am, still thinking about whether or not to preorder No Man’s Sky for its PC release on friday. The game sounds interesting enough, even if I’d say it lends itself better to the couch and tv in the living room than the PC at the desk. I’m fine with everything I’ve read so far and didn’t expect anything else, maybe because I didn’t care much for the hype beforehand. It’s released now and it seems to be a single player game, but I didn’t take a longer look at the game before it was released. Insofar, I’m glad the PS4 version released a couple of days before the PC version; that way, I still have about 48 hours to make up my mind.

The thing is, to me, the game loses value as soon as it is released. Strange as it might sound, I actually do want to name species, planets and stuff. So as soon as others go about doing that, the chances of me being able to call something “Strangebird” or “Legolas” become slimmer every day. And the game would lose some of its attraction for me.

Interesting, though, is to see how much the devs seem to skirt around that multiplayer thing- my guess is that if it was clearly labelled as singleplayer game, Massively wouldn’t have covered it.

Another thing popping up in my head is the lack of content in NMS- yes, i said it! 18 bazillion planets don’t really mean a thing to me if

  • I can’t build a base (apparently an upcoming feature)
  • there is no civilization- and I’m not talking about a strange building here and there, but cities, skyscrapers, sentient species moving on planets (don’t really know if NMS has something like this)
  • I can earn spacebucks, but don’t really have a way to spend them (possibly ship and multitool upgrades)
  • what am I gathering resources for?

I mean, even if it is great for exploring, for sure, it could still feel empty. Ah well, but I’m the guy who plays Civilization games on an Earth map, if possible, because I don’t find randomly generated worlds to be plausible. Maybe I lack fantasy.

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Housing wishlist for Elder Scrolls Online

Elder Scrolls Online will get housing in its Q1 2017 update- we know this already. We probably also know that it’s semi-instanced. I’m very much looking forward to housing in ESO – but i do have a few wishes.

Accessible

I hope housing will be accessible very early in the game and not be a max-level thing. It should also be somewhat attractive by default- players who like housing are a creative and loyal bunch, if housing is done right. However, housing players will only “suffer” through so much gameplay they don’t enjoy to get something for the part of the game they do. Leveling to 50 would be a bit long. Of course housing should scale very well and accompany players throughout their characters’ lives. At any point from level 10 onwards, i’d like to be able to see and do something about my house.

Not a byproduct

I hinted at that wish above, but i think this bears repeating: don’t make me run 10 dungeons to – maybe- get some housing item i’d like. Don’t simply attach housing stuff to achievements. Sure, do housing drops, they’re nice loot. Ideally, housing would be a different path to take in the game, maybe even accompanied by a new crafting profession or new recipes for existing crafting professions.

Shareable

I hope we’ll be able to share our spaces, let visitors come in. A player owned house would be great for guild meetings. It would be even better if we were able to visit houses of strangers (if they set the appropriate permissions).

Semi-Instanced

There are great housing systems out there- Wildstar’s and Rift’s housing systems are both very accessible and very complete- however, in both cases i had trouble to connect them to the virtual world they should be in. It’s not a lore- or immersion problem, per se, as the teleporting and locations fit into both games, but in both cases, i couldn’t shake the feeling of disconnect. In ESO, we already seem to know that the houses are part of the zones, so this wish seems to be granted.

Gold sink

It is very important for an MMORPG to have means of spending earned gold. The last couple of years brought us more and more alternative currencies in other games, often different ones for different activities (questing, dungeons, pvp etc.). You’d get some kind of token that you can then spend at some NPC for items. It’s an…ok system to have, but as with bound-on-acquire gear, i think of it as a band-aid that’s hurting the economy. You really only need one currency- gold. Elder Scrolls Online thankfully features gold as a currency mostly, to my knowledge. While i am always broke in this game (and think this is a good thing), i’ve heard others state that they didn’t know what to do with their gold- housing is a good way to get them to spend it.

Light on cash shop

Of course we know housing is going to be monetized in the cash shop- there’ll be exclusive items, possibly even houses, and i have no problem with that. As with everything, though, it’s important to keep a balance. I think it would be a shame, for instance, if crafters couldn’t create anything for the houses, in-game means would be quite limited and everything else would go into the cash shop. Housing items should be attainable through as many means as possible, including but not focussing on the cash shop.

Flexible

Some time, i guess this month when i’ll be looking for inspiration, i’ll tell you the tale on how i got interested in MMORPGs. The short version is: i wanted to become a baker. Nowadays, i’d like to become a tavern owner. Sure, setting up one’s home is nice and all, but in the end, that’s kind of limited in scope- let us build taverns, bakeries, shops, barracks, hiding spots, casinos and more underground stuff. This ties into the wish of housing being shareable, as well- as a tavern owner, for instance, some visitors would be nice.

So that’s basically it- i guess i’d like it to be as close as possible to EQ2’s housing with a hint of Wildstar’s to add flavor.

A feature Online games need to have

So MMOGames.com is looking for writers and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. If you’re willing, see if you’re able, too. I love how mmogames tends to recruit bloggers, many of which i’m reading on a regular basis. Bloggers make for a very different tone in their articles, and it shows. I’ve said it before, and i’ll do it again: mmogames is a rising star in the mmo site business- i don’t know about money, but quality-wise and as a “collection of blog posts”, it’s great. Now, i’m not looking for a job, but i found their writing prompt interesting:

500 words on 1 feature all multiplayer games need

Here’s mine.

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Being supportive 2

Interesting. On my old blog, i had this post about being supportive of the few (and getting even rarer) companies who bring MMORPGs to us- at that time, it was about Trion’s up-to-then unknown imported game. Today, i’ll return to this topic in regards to Rift’s new expansion Starfall Prophecy- this post started its life as a comment on Psychochild’s blog, but i felt like it was getting too long. TLDR would be: “don’t hold a grudge”.

Trion once was that highly respected company- everyone cheered when the news broke that they’d be publishing ArcheAge. Then something bad happened and now they’re struggling – reputation wise.

Here’s the thing, though: what big MMO devs/publishers do you know? Blizzard? Cancelled their latest MMO in favour of a lobby shooter. Daybreak? Ha, well, they seem to be downgrading lately. Turbine? Already on their way out. Funcom? Is struggling and needs to do something other than MMOs to actually earn some money.

Now, we can have all the business model talks or how exactly each and every company developing MMORPGs went wrong, but i’d like to state something else:

I feel Trion is on the right way.

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MMOs are not about playing with friends

A while back i came across this quote when i read a post about Jaedia returning to Guild Wars 2:

…I love being able to play with my friends, that is the big draw of MMORPGs after all,…

Hannah Richardson-Lewis, Returning to Tyria

Hannah/Jaedia is a great blogger – i enjoy following her blog and posts on mmorpg.com and i find myself agreeing with her for the most part- but this statement is something i don’t agree with, even if i know i’m probably blowing her harmless sentence up more than i should and MMORPGs are different for all of us, it’s that statement that inspired me to draft the following post a couple of weeks back, only to edit and publish it now for Blaugust.

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How could ESO improve trading?

Elder Scrolls Online has employed a unique way of doing player trading. As we all know, there are no global auction houses. What’s more is that materials used in crafting have no or quite low value when selling them to NPCs. Instead, there are trading guilds, guild merchants and merchants in Cyrodiil. Here’s a statement from Nick Konkle:

You don’t necessarily want to do a global auction house for a game with one giant server because that generally leads to all the best gear being available at very, very cheap prices, a lot of times that can trivialize the game. You cannot have a healthy economy when there are no restrictions on getting the best stuff in the game.

I’ve read another statement somewhere that the way ESO does player trading is the closest they can get to simulating regional pricing for goods in a game where fast travel is a thing.

I respect both of these explanations and find it quite refreshing that a developer leaves out a “standard feature” of MMORPGs in favour of game design. However, this approach isn’t working out for me- and possibly a few other players out there, if i were to assume i’m not the only one having some trouble in using either chat or trading guilds as market places.

As i’m also playing EVE these days, i began to think about ways Elder Scrolls Online could add public market places into the game without breaking aforementioned guidelines.

Add a guild finder

I think ZOS has plans to introduce a guild finder in the game. While it’s not too difficult to find guilds who are advertising on the official forums etc., having an ingame interface would make things easier. After seeing EVE’s corp search tool, i’d wish for ESO’s to be more elaborate. In my opinion, there’s a few key factors when looking for a good fit and i think all of this should be considered when designing the guild finder:

  • Play time. Either give a few options to enter your average weekly time you spend in the game or give the option to enter time of day for your activities.
  • Gameplay focus: Questing, Dungeons, Raiding, Crafting, Trade, Thieving, Fishing, Roleplaying and PvP are already in game, with “killing” coming soon. Provide checkboxes to select the content you’re interested in.
  • Target Group: Hardcore, Casual, Social, 18+, family-friendly and more
  • Language

 

EVE's corp search is great.
EVE’s corp search is great.

When you present the results, be sure to add ways to join that guild- provide a button to text with a recruitment officer and/or a simple “apply” button with an optional text message just like they already have with friend requests.

Create regional markets

The market places / merchants would need to be located in the game world. No fancy interface, just a house in a city- let’s say one per zone. I’d also prefer it if the prices weren’t scannable by addons which could be making it easy for players to figure out where to buy/sell stuff.

Taxes

To get regionally different prices, there needs to be a way to control these prices. As you can’t rely on players to do that themselves, as you can indeed fast travel through the world, there’d need to be taxes. Luckily, Elder Scrolls Online already has something that denotes the origin of the item: the crafting motifs. So they could put different taxes on items in different regions.

Let’s say you craft an armor in breton style but want to sell it in Auridon- you could do that, but it would be heavily taxed because the Bretons aren’t even in the same alliance. I think Auridon is also Altmer territory while Grahtwood is Bosmer- you could set taxes accordingly. They’d be lower than the Breton style taxes, but still different.

Of course, there are additional styles that might not be as easy to locate in the geography of Tamriel. I don’t know enough about them to make suggestions, but i’m sure one could figure out a way.

Limit trade

Of course, you’d be able to buy on each market you visit, but selling would be restricted in some ways – otherwise, players would simply teleport around Tamriel to avoid mentioned taxes. I could think of two ways to do that:

  • limit selling for one character/account to one location. If you sell stuff on the Daggerfall market, you can’t sell anything in Wayrest, for instance.
  • limit selling by taxes, again- raise taxes for each location an account wants to sell stuff in and make it hurt, at least when the number of markets per account reach 3

Of course, one thing would happen: we’d have trade hubs in Elder Scrolls Online. But this still wouldn’t be a global market as there’d be incentives to sell in other regions (to pay lower crafting style taxes or get higher profits) and it would actually be believable.

Market Halls with player shops / guild traders

While i can understand that ZOS doesn’t want to litter the landscape with guild traders/merchants, i think there are too few of them right now to make them really interesting. It’s a nice feature, of course, if you are a member of a successful trading guild, but it’s a bit of a hassle to find one of these. If they’re not willing or able to develop easily available player trading for individuals through NPCs, they could create “market halls” in cities where a guild or individuals could open shops. Let’s say you have a building and room in there for 20 merchants- add some costs (without making them absurdly high) and allow guilds or individuals to open a shop for, say, 60 minutes. The merchant they hired will then sell their stuff for 60 minutes before the contract needs to be renewed. You could also raise the costs for each successive hire and differentiate between locations.

Create a variety of different trading guilds

ZOS could also create more than one NPC trading guild- let’s say 10 or even more. Each account has to join one and can only buy/sell stuff in this NPC guild (well, and in player guilds, obviously).

Armchair much?

Yes 🙂 But there are two things that do bother me with trade in ESO right now: first, to be able to trade, you have to find and join trading guilds. That’s an active part you have to play and you have to do this outside of the game. The second one is that one-to-many player trade isn’t part of the game system design but part of the guild system design. I get that in Elder Scrolls Lore, guilds are important, but there has to be a merchant/trading guild somewhere in the lore.

Thinking about it, improving player trade could be bolstered up to become a stand-alone DLC.

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.