Monthly Archives: August 2011

Double-dipping, or the art of screwing the gamer over twice

Massively just reported that The Secret World, Funcom’s upcoming conspiracy-themed MMO, will have both a subscription and a cash shop right at launch. This from a developer who saved a title from the brink of extinction (Age of Conan) by converting it to free-to-play. So they know F2P makes money. Of course, they promise that the shop will only contain vanity items and convenience items. For now. I have yet to see a cash shop that didn’t start adding advantage items to the game, too.

You know what, though? I don’t give a damn if the only thing the shop will contain are fuzzy bunny slippers. I’m getting tired of MMOs double-dipping. If you’re going to make me pay a subscription, give me all the content you create. Yes, all of it. Including the vanity items.

If you want me to buy from your cash shop, you need to drop the subscription or give subscribers store credit each month. I’m not a perpetual money generator.

Right now I’m playing three MMOs: Perpetuum Online (subscription but no cash shop), Runes of Magic (no subscription), and APB Reloaded (subscription-optional). And you know what? I have no problem spending money in Runes of Magic’s item shop. Because the choice in how much or how little to spend is entirely up to me. You can even get all the content in the gameĀ  using only in-game gold, because the cash shop currency is tradeable (much like EVE’s PLEX). As for APB? I haven’t spent a dime yet. I won’t spend money on a beta product. But once the game is live, I’ll consider a subscription. It’s not necessary. You can still be competitive without spending money.

I’m very disappointed that MMOs are more about making money than making a quality product. I want MMOs to make money, don’t get me wrong. I want them to be profitable. But you can’t truly succeed if you think, “I’ll make an MMO. Those things are easy cash!” You need to think, “I’ll make an MMO. I love those games, and if I make a good one, other people will love it, too.”

 


APB: Reloaded…reloaded

Back to playing APB: Reloaded, because the game is just that damn fun. Since the last time I played, they’ve improved the matchmaking system. Matches seem to work a lot better, to the point where now it’s pretty common to end up in a fight of 6+ on either side. It’s crazy fun. Matches also come quickly, and they are almost always opposing fights (instead of missions where no one comes after you).

Oh, and see this car in the screenshot? This is your starter car. After all this time, I still haven’t bothered to upgrade it (though I made it look fantastic). Why? Because it’s awesome. Seriously, it handles well, it takes corners like a dream, and I can weave in and out of traffic like a racecar driver. I love my car.


I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t really learn to drive. Last night I was in a stolen taxi, being chased by another player during a mission. I made a hard left, guessing he wouldn’t be able to follow. Sure enough, I had no trouble shaking him off me. I spend a lot of my time between missions driving around the city, making random turns and 180s, trying to thread the needle without running into other vehicles, dodging other players, etc. It’s helped my driving skills immensely in the game. I practice with the different vehicle types, trying to get a feel for how they handle (and trust me, the handling is different with different vehicles). I find my best driving occurs with the starter car, the four-door pickup, and the taxi. I’m still working on the old muscle car that looks like a Charger and the little Porsche-like sports car. The worst is the luxury car that reminds me of a Lexus. I swear, I can flip that thing by looking at it sideways.

You can still play APB effectively without spending a dime, and they’re getting closer to the official release. It’s a great time to hop into the game.


Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars never really interested me much. It seemed too much like other MMOs, sans subscription, and I couldn’t really gather the interest to play it. I’d heard it was heavily instanced and didn’t have basic movements like jumping. I did attempt the trial once, but they never sent a trial key, so I gave up. So I also never paid much attention to Guild Wars 2. I couldn’t understand why it had the highest excitement rating on MMORPG.com, even higher than ArcheAge.

So I started looking closer at it. And I’m really liking what I’m seeing:

Dynamic events in the place of quests.

 

 

Traditional quest systems involve walking up to a character who usually has an exclamation point or question mark hovering over their head and talking to them. From here, you get a massive wall of text hardly anyone reads that describes a horrible or totally mundane thing going on in the world that you need to help with. You run off, complete this task, then return and talk to this character again to receive another wall of text and a reward. Traditional quest systems rely on these blocks of quest text to tell you what is happening in the world; this is just an outdated form of storytelling.

In Guild Wars 2, our event system won’t make you read a huge quest description to find out what’s going on. You’ll experience it by seeing and hearing things in the world. If a dragon is attacking, you won’t read three paragraphs telling you about it, you’ll see buildings exploding in giant balls of fire, and hear characters in the game world screaming about a dragon attack. You’ll hear guards from nearby cities trying to recruit players to go help fight the dragon, and see huge clouds of smoke in the distance, rising from the village under siege.

There is a second fundamental flaw to traditional quest systems: what the quest text tells you is happening in a quest is not actually what is happening in the world.

For example, in a traditional MMO, the character who gives you a quest will tell you ogres are coming to destroy the character’s home, and you need to kill them. You then get a quest which says, “Kill 0/10 ogres” and you proceed to kill a bunch of ogres standing around in a field picking daisies. Since every player in the game needs to be able to do this quest, the ogres will never actually threaten the character’s home – they will just eternally pick daisies in the field. The ogres aren’t actually doing what the quest says they are – the game is lying to you!

At ArenaNet, we believe this is NOT good enough. In Guild Wars 2, if a character tells you ogres are coming to destroy a house, they will really come and smash down the house if you don’t stop them!

Kill stealing isn’t possible. In fact, helping out rewards everyone.

The event system in Guild Wars 2 is designed to specifically address this problem. All players that fully participate in an event are rewarded for doing so; everyone who helps kill a monster or blow up an enemy catapult will get credit for doing so. There is no kill stealing and no quest camping. Everyone works together towards the common goal of the event and everyone is rewarded for doing so. To help ensure there is always enough for everyone to do, our events dynamically scale, so the more players who show up and participate in the event, the more enemies show up to fight them. If a bunch of players leave the event, it will dynamically scale back down so it can be completed by the people who are still there playing it. This careful balance created by our dynamic scaling system helps ensure you have the best and most rewarding play experience.

Exploration sounds like an actual, viable option.

As an added bonus, we’ve also hidden hundreds of events all over the world that require interaction with the game world. This helps give an extra sense of reward and discovery for those who seek to explore the entire world. Finding an entrance to a secret cave deep at the bottom of the ocean and removing a glowing orb from the cave could let an evil creature loose from its ancient prison and kick off a chain of events as the creature terrorizes the ocean shipping lanes. Reading the spells written on an ancient wizard’s spell book in a ruined castle at the top of the highest mountain peak could open a portal to another world and trigger a chain of events as creatures from that world come through the portal.

I love the “oops” factor of that last one.

Personal stories

A player’s biography choices immediately tailor physical parts of the game to their character. Each character is given a home instance, personalized to their biography choices, located in their racial capital – Hoelbrak for the norn, the Grove for the sylvari, and so forth. Within this home area, things are more personalized to your character. Your home instance never stops updating; as your character becomes more involved in their story, it will alter accordingly. Two norn will quickly differentiate their personal area through choices in the storyline. They will encounter different adventures, make different decisions, and their home will change to match their story.

(And housing right at launch!)

Choosing specifics of your character’s biography, or making decisions during a storyline, will alter your character’s story within the game. Some of these differences will be tangible, like having special NPCs or merchants in your home instance, getting pretty town clothes, or seeing special cinematics.

High level instanced dungeons that require groups.

Each of our dungeons is divided into story and explorable versions. The story version of each dungeon comes first, and completing it unlocks the ability to run the explorable version. In turn, the explorable versions of the dungeons have several options (usually three), each of which creates a different set of challenges and goals in the game. So, when we say that there are currently eight dungeons, we really mean there are thirty-two dungeons, as each dungeon has a story version and three explorable versions.

Those sound like a cross between standard instanced dungeons and raids, but with more story.

Other stuff I’ve heard about include underwater exploration and combat, firearms, and a last ditch death system that sounds a bit like Borderlands. I’m definitely keeping a closer eye on this game now, and I look forward to hearing about how it’s faring on release.


If beta was good enough for them then, it’s good enough for them now.

In 2007, Flagship Studios released Hellgate: London, a hack-and-slash action-RPG. The development house was made up of former Blizzard employees, and the game used many elements from Blizzard’s highly-popular Diablo series. Set in a post-apocalyptic London, demons have unleashed hell on the world, and it’s up to you to stop them.

While the reviews were average, one major problem was that this non-MMO tried to charge a subscription for “premium” multiplayer content. In 2007, the only games that got away with charging subscriptions were AAA titles by large studios. Free-to-play was considered an inferior gaming choice, and the idea of charging for a game that wasn’t an MMO was unheard of.

It was no surprise that the studio declared bankruptcy in 2008, and its assets were seized. Fast forward to 2011. At some point between 2008 and 2011 T3 Entertainment acquired the rights to the game in North America and Europe, and set up to make Hellgate: London (now Hellgate Global) a free-to-play MMO.

So being the MMO fan that I am, and looking for something to play with friends that isn’t a fantasy theme park MMO, I downloaded the client and fired it up. The first thing that greeted me was a clunky UI that looked like it hadn’t change since 2007. The second thing to greet me was the fact that I couldn’t remap my mouse buttons, forcing me into WASD controls against my will. OK, so a UI that doesn’t really work isn’t the best start, but I’ve worked around worse. So how about the tutorial? Well, it was about 10 minutes long, threw everything at you in a tidal wave of confusion, and then dumped you into a subway station, one of the safe hubs where you pick up quests and drop your stuff in your bank.

After a few minutes to get acclimated, I found a quest and jumped in to the killing. This was exactly as fun and mindless as it is in Diablo. Mow down hordes of enemies, collect tons of loot, sell loot, mow down more hordes of enemies, collect tons more loot, rinse repeat. Ah, but if it’s fun in single player, surely it rocks in multiplayer.

Well, turns out that that the half-assed multiplayer implemented in 2007 became…the half-assed multiplayer in 2011. Bugs that should never have made it to release in 2007 are still there in 2011. Like the fact that some of your party members can jump into an instance and not see other party members, even though they’re there and able to fight. And this can happen repeatedly, forcing your group to jump in and out until everyone syncs up. This may well be the worst network code I’ve ever seen, and it’s something that an MMO should never allow past closed beta. There’s also no way this game was released in 2007 without this bug. It adds weight to the theory that the online multiplayer portion was a last minute addition, an attempt to cash in on the subscription model that made people see MMOs as nothing more than free money generators.

Another problem we encountered (mind you, all this was within an hour of play) was that since I’d already done a particular quest the day before, when the other party members went to do that same quest, I was completely unable to join them. I couldn’t port to them; I couldn’t restart the quest. I had to sit out. I haven’t seen that in an MMO since, well, probably since 2007.

And that was the end of our Hellgate Global test.

From what I understand, the game is completely free for the first couple of areas (which will get you to around level 12), and after that, it costs $4 to unlock the rest of the world. This was an apparent last minute change to the payment model that came about during closed beta. When you think about it, that means it isn’t really a F2P game but rather they provided an unlimited time trial and charge extra for things like more bank slots and PvP arenas. Sure, four dollars isn’t much money, but when the game is this shoddy, it’s still not worth it. When the developers seem to love a product, it shows. When it seems they’re only in it to make money, that shows, too. I don’t pay for the latter.


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