Wednesday, January 28, 2015

MMO Journalism

Rumour has it that AOL is planning to shut down Joystiq and related sites. This will probably hit two major sites dedicated to MMOs: WoW Insider, and Massively.

I will be sorry to see them go. I haven't always agreed with their perspectives, but they've always been interesting. They had a good handle on the "pulse" of their respective communities, and could be counted on to cover almost anything of interest that happened.

There is talk of some of the veterans of these two sites attempting to launch their own site dedicated to MMO journalism, perhaps funded by Kickstarter or subscriptions. I rather think that such a venture will probably end in failure. I mean, MMO gamers don't want to pay for the games they play. How much less likely are they going to want to pay for writing about those games?

They might be able to do something with advertising, but if AOL can't draw enough advertising to cover costs, I'm not sure that an independent site would be able to.

Still, I'll miss those WoW Insider and Massively if they go. Best of luck to the current staff.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Crowfall: Centaurs Confirmed!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you vital news: Crowfall has centaurs!


Not only centaurs, but centaurs based on the Roman Empire!

The tactic Crowfall is taking towards races is interesting. They look to be tying class and race together. All Knights are human, all Legionnaires are centaur. It's interesting because that means that the races don't need to be necessarily balanced as a baseline, so long as the Race+Class combination is balanced.

According to their FAQ, humanoid classes will allow both genders, while monstrous classes will be single-gendered. I imagine this is to cut down on the amount of time needed. It probably means that there will be a monstrous female class as well, maybe Lamias, Medusas, or Harpies.

The other interesting thing that people noticed earlier was that races had a Hunger Resistance stat. This naturally led into all sorts of speculation about role food would play in the game. Would you have to eat every so often to keep your stats up?

However, the Legionnaire write-up seems to imply that the Hunger are some sort of enemy. So that stat is closer to Demon Resistance, rather something related to food. I found that to be an amusing outcome to the speculation.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rationing Loot

Most games ration the top tiers of loot in some fashion. They do this to draw out the process of gearing up, and to give people an excuse to log in and continue to play.

For example, WoW uses raid lockouts combined with a random chance of items dropping. You can only do a boss once per week, and you have X% chance of your item dropping. This method is exciting, but can be streaky.

The percent chance can be for the entire group or for the individual, as in the case of WoW's personal loot system. I think the entire group method is better, as it is more apparent that the reward is for the entire group. As well, in a good group, very little loot is wasted. Unfortunately, as LFR proved, you can't trust a random group of strangers to distribute loot reasonably.

The other common method is an end-game currency where the amount you can earn per week is limited. Thus, you know an item costs exactly Y points, which will take you exactly Z runs. This method is perfectly deterministic, but rather boring.

Of all the rationing methods in the MMOs I've played, I like the system used by FFXIV's 24-man raids the best. A separate item drops for each 8-player group within the raid. If it's for your role, you may roll Need. Otherwise you can only Greed. But you can only win one piece from the instance per week. You can do the instance as often as you want. You can fish for a specific item or just take the first item for your class that drops. You can roll for your alternate specs if you want, but if a main-spec in the raid wants the item, they will win.

This "one item per week" restriction is a very blunt instrument. It's very meta as well. There's no real in-game rational for it at all. But it just works. People only roll on items they want, since there is a significant cost to winning. The tank gets the tank item if she needs it. There's no chance of a damage dealer winning the item over the tank. The item drops for the group as a whole, and people who win stuff get congratulated. It feels like a team working for a common reward, which is something that WoW's LFR has lost.

Of course, FFXIV also has an alternate raid currency. So even if you don't win anything that drops during a run, you accumulate the raid currency and can buy gear that way.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Verified Identities and Archeage

One of the major MMO stories of last year was the launch of Archeage in the West to a reasonably welcoming audience. However, Archeage was overrun by spammers, hackers, and bots to such a degree that many people gave up on the game.

Many commentators pinned the blame for this on Trion, the western publishers. Trion in turn, said that they required help from the developers, XLGames, to combat these problems. Most commentators seemed to feel that this was just Trion trying to cover up for their mistakes.

But what if Trion was right? Most MMOs these days need to build in anti-spam, anti-hacker, and anti-bot defenses. What if Archeage didn't have these defenses that we in the West take as normal?

From my quick research, Archeage Korea requires three extra items to create an account:

  1. A Korean IP Address
  2. A Korean mobile phone
  3. A Korean Social Security Number (some sort of number assigned by the South Korean government)
These three external requirements tie the Acheage account to a very specific person. What if Archeage in Korea doesn't need built-in software defenses? What if these external requirements are enough to reduce spam, hacking, and botting to acceptable levels, or eliminate it entirely?

Perhaps companies in the west need to come up with a way to create a verified identification before allowing account creation. Of course, the problem is that there are multiple countries, all with different identification documents and numbers, and legal restrictions on how those identifiers can be used. You might be able to do something with a dedicated third-party company, which the game companies support.

Rather than a software arms race between spammers, hackers, botters and the game devs, verified identities might be a more successful strategy to pursue.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Crowfall

I saw some teasers for an upcoming MMO, Crowfall.

It's just the barest of teasers so far, but they look to be creating something in the vein of Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. Trying to get back to "world" aspect of MMOs.

For example, in an interview at mmorpg.com, they say:

There are a ton of lessons to be learned looking at games like Star Wars Galaxies and EVE Online which had and still have success with their crafting and economic loops. From a very high altitude, crafters need to be able to: craft unique items, explore new recipes and profit from the results of this exploration, and create customized items for all styles of play. Crafters must have an audience to buy their goods. The loop between crafter and combatant has to exist! And, ideally, crafters need to be able to “mark” their product so that they can build a social reputation and a following. 
The very concept that players can and will lose their items at some point is required, otherwise the game loop breaks. It is a very controversial topic for those who don’t like the potential of losing their items, and we understand that.  But sometimes you have to embrace ideas that may not be popular at first glance, because they open up amazing areas of gameplay that are otherwise not accessible.
That's a pretty bold statement, but it might very well be correct. Inconvenience drives sandboxes.

The dev pedigree is also somewhat impressive: J. Todd Coleman, Gordon Walton, Raph Koster. We'll see what they come up. There are many ways an MMO can screw up, and these devs aren't exactly known for prioritizing performance and responsiveness.

Still, I'm kind of interested in Crowfall, and it's mostly because of a single picture:


That Templar just looks good to me. It's clean, attractive, in solid, functional armor that still has a surprising amount of detail. It's stylized, avoiding uncanny valley effects, while still retaining proper human proportions.

I just really like the design intent as exemplified by this Templar. If the rest of the game matches this aesthetic (and performance/responsiveness is strong!), Crowfall just feels like it will be a blast to play.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Elder Scrolls Online Goes Buy-2-Play

The other recent news was that Elder Scrolls Online announced that they were switching to a buy-2-play model (with an optional subscription).

I've seen some people saying cynically saying that this was the plan all along. That ESO was just trying to milk as much as money out of subscribers as possible before switching. As Azuriel points out, F2P has the unfortunate side-effect of engendering cynicism among the players.

This imputation is probably unfair to the devs behind ESO. If anything, B2P would have been the backup plan. If ESO had stabilized at a high number of subscribers (0.5 million, 1 million, whatever), they would have been more than happy to stick with being a subscriber-only game.

Oh well. It will make life easier on the console, though.

I'm not sure if I will take another look at ESO. My problem was with the combat, and I don't know if that has improved or not. If any readers are still playing ESO, feel free to chime in on the state of the game.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Melee Builds and Treasure Goblins in Diablo 3

My current Crusader build in Diablo 3 is a Holy build. It's a build that has a relatively large amount of ranged damage. However, the Crusader archetype is a sword-and-shield melee fighter. So for a few Paragon levels, I tried out a build focused around melee skills and blocking, with lots of things like thorns (reflective damage).

This melee build was actually a lot of fun, and effective against enemies. It was especially fun with large packs of enemies, as you just wade into the packs, get surrounded, and then everything around you blows up as you block all the damage.

However, there was one mechanic in D3 which made this melee build extremely frustrating: Treasure Goblins. Treasure goblins are enemies which have a large amount of loot. But they don't attack you. Instead they run away from you and attempt to open a portal through which they escape. Currently there's an event where the Treasure Goblins can be found in pairs or packs.

Treasure Goblins were supremely disappointing with a melee build. While chasing down one goblin, the others made their escape. I was basically only able to kill half a pack of goblins. In contrast, the ranged Holy build can usually get all of them.

It was very frustrating because Treasure Goblins are somewhat rare, and very rewarding if you kill them. So despite the fact that the melee build was fun and performed well everywhere else in the game, I switched back to ranged. After all, the ranged build dealt just as well with regular enemies, and had the advantage of making it much easier to kill Treasure Goblins.

This illustrates how hard it is to balance melee against ranged in these sorts of games. Melee classes or builds have a fundamental weakness built into them. Ranged classes or builds need a similar weakness. When they don't have that weakness, the balance tilts too heavily towards the ranged classes and builds.