Wacky Wandom Wednesday

eyeI’m heading out to PAX Prime tomorrow, so I’m mostly focused on preparing for that, but here are a few nuggets of gaming goodness that have been happening in my life lately:

WildStar

My new helmet has a flaming eye on it.  ‘Nuff said.

I also hit level 25 last night, which was a great milestone level — I not only got my hoverboard (HOVERBOARD) but access to the tier 4 skill abilities.  I rejiggered my entire attack sequence to take advantage of this, using flak cannon to quickly get my volitility to 30+, then fire bio shell instantly (thanks to its tier 4 ability), then have so much volitility that I can let off several bolt cutters in a row.  It’s a huge damage dump, although I had to take off my stun to make this work.

Lord of the Rings Online

I’m sitting on a pile of gold earmarked for a second age legendary weapon if I see one on the auction house.  Actually, I did see a second ager great club, but really, who uses great clubs in that game?  Super dorky looking.  Just give me a two-handed sword or possibily a halbred, and I’d be happy.

Mostly these days I log in to do four or five quests in Gondor, although lately I’ve been concentrating on the epic book before going back to the rest of the content.  My daughter was quite concerned that the Nazgul dragon was “bad” and needed to be wiped out, even though the game wouldn’t let me.

Star Trek Online

So yup, I reloaded STO because I’m having a hard time ignoring the upcoming expansion news.  It’s one of those “who knows if this will come to anything” game dabblings, but why not.  I started up a new Engineer and went through the first quest.  It’s good familiarity, although I kind of forgot how much the starter ship is horrible in both looks and performance.  Oh well, if I stick it out I have a free rear admiral ship in the bank for later on.

Guild Wars 2

The 25th was the two-year anniversary of GW2’s head start, which is pretty amazing to me.  Has it really been that long already?  Since I still have the character I created that day, I got my birthday gifts.  Nothing super-helpful to me right now, but a skill and level booster for a possible alt, as well as a gun that shoots birthday cake.  It doesn’t shoot AT birthday cake, it shoots birthday cake OUT.  That’s a gun we all should have.  If everyone in the world had that gun, universal happiness would instantly break out.  Also, lots of food fights.

Six things about the Atari 2600 that I forgot until now

marioI was watching a retro review of an Atari 2600 game the other day that unlocked several memories I had of that quirky first console.  In no particular order, here they are:

1. The games were very colorful and bold — sometimes moreso than the NES — but had horribly large pixels.  That made rendering text or recognizable human figures problematic unless they made them very big, which is why so many of the games used non-human avatars (spaceships, frogs, etc.).

2. Almost all of the games never had a win condition.  They were super-short and leaned heavily on repition, usually by resetting the stage and making it faster or tougher somehow.  Again, another limitation of the console’s memory.  So one lesson we learned early on is that no matter what, you would lose.  It was only a question of when.

3. Another way that the devs eked out content was to make dozens if not hundreds (and that is not hyperbole) rule variations for the games.  Combat, that packed-in staple, had large plane versions, invisible walls, invisible planes, bank shot tanks, fast moving, slow moving, and so on.  Playing with invisibility in any format seems really weird today, but it was kind of a fun challenge back then.

4. By holding down the reset switch and turning on Space Invaders, you could start a game where your guy could shoot TWICE in a row instead of just once.  That was the first easter egg that I ever encountered in a video game.

5. Later games really chafed under the limited controller (the one-button joystick).  Some required the use of two controllers (such as Defender II) to allow access to more player options, while others used that horrible keypad (Star Raiders) for input.

6. Development on Atari 2600 games went on long after the video game crash of 1983 and even the rise of the NES.  We often bought stripped-down versions of NES games in the late 80s, like California Games, Ikari Warriors, and even 1990’s Xenophobe.  1992 saw the last official Atari 2600 game released (EU’s Acid Drop).

Monogamy and the MMO player

gamessssProbably one of the most common questions I’m asked is something along the lines of, “How can you play so many MMOs?  How do you have the time?  How can you stay interested in all of them?”  Well, one question if you smooshed all of that up and swallowed it.

I think I give the illusion that I have much more time than I really do.  My average day contains perhaps two or three hours of playtime, and that’s at the end of the day after everyone’s asleep (since my household goes to bed at 9 except for me, I’m in a rare position of having a few hours to myself even with four other people around).  I don’t make terribly fast progress in any game, but pokey my puppy on up, trusting that I’ll finish the race eventually even though I’m meandering while others are sprinting.  Right now I might give four games a half-hour apiece on a given night or just spend an entire evening devoted to a big project on one game (such as last night, when I knocked out two difficult slayer virtues for my Lore-master in LOTRO).

The multi-MMO aspect of this query is easier to address.  I play more than one MMO because I can’t imagine going back to the days of doing one and one game only.

Oh, there’s a huge appeal to being a monogamous MMO player, especially when you do have limited time.  Some days I think about how attractive it might be to just cast everything but one title aside and plunge fully into that game.  My Massively Speaking cohost Bree was telling me that that is exactly what she does, playing a single MMO for a month or two before putting it down and picking up something else.

I don’t think I could do that, and a lot of it has to do with the nasty feeling of burnout.  I’ve had really bad burnout experiences in the past, and it’s always the same story.  I’m super into an MMO, I play it constantly, and then one day I abruptly can’t bring myself to log back in.  The very thought of the game is like ashes to me, and I look at all that I’ve done as a massive waste.  I feel horrible that I’m abandoning friends and I feel lost in my gaming time as my mainstay is now no longer there.  Turning a game that I loved into something I detest is kind of sad and horrible at once.

But ever since I started juggling MMOs, I’ve found that I haven’t had that nasty crash-and-burn experience.  I think of it as having a diverse portfolio of games, spreading out my interest and relying on the titles that are more interesting to me at a given time to balance out the ones that have dropped in my esteem.  There’s little pressure to keep playing a single game, and instead of “leaving” I either cut back or take an extended sabbatical from it.  Other than losing contact with guildies, it’s worked out well for me.  Coming back to MMOs after a break is more refreshing and I’m almost never out of options of something new, fun, or interesting to do.

Prior to playing MMOs, I was never a monogamous gamer.  I doubt many of us were.  We were just gamers.  We might play one game extensively, but there wasn’t much baggage involved in putting it down to play another.  I didn’t own a console with just one game.  I didn’t only have one program installed on my computer.  So why should MMOs be different?

MMOs demand so much time from you to where they start messing with your brain, making you think as though you’re cheating on them not to be giving them 100% of your attention.  Sure, for some activities you’re probably going to have to go all-in or at least stop going to work — particularly if you want to raid or be highly competitive or get the best of the best gear.  But once I made peace with the fact that I wanted none of those things, I developed a lot of peace in my playstyle.  I cherished the experiences of an evening and the gradual progress toward a goal.  I slowed down to really get into a game instead of racing through it.  I can look back and see how stressed out MMO gaming used to make me when I was all about one game and one game only, and now I can see how I’m much more mellow and content about it.

Another mind-trap that we buy into is that MMOs are a one-and-done product.  Once we’ve played and left, there’s no reason to go back.  Yet we do go back, don’t we?  I’ve lost count of the number of weirdly apologetic blog posts from people sheepish that they’ve returned to a game that caused them to previously burn out and call the bride of Satan.  Hey, there’s no shame in it.  It’s actually pretty great to return to older MMOs, since they’ve established themselves more and have gotten away from the drama of launch.  Some of the unhappiest players I’ve seen are ones that rip through new games, grown bored with them, and are seemingly incapable of playing anything that isn’t cutting-edge fresh.  “There’s nothing to playyyyy!” they cry, surrounded by hundreds of MMOs.

With more relaxed business models (thank you, free-to-play and buy-to-play) there barrier of finances has been lowered and there’s no huge reason why we can’t game hop more.  For me, at least, it’s worked out wonderfully.

One thing we forget

When people like to work themselves up in a tizzy talking about how MMOs are dying or whatever (despite objective, observable evidence to the contrary), one thing that’s sometimes mentioned is how there are only “so many” MMO players and every game released tries to grab from that same pool.

I don’t know where we got this notion that there’s a hard ceiling on the number of potential/present MMO players.  I’d love to see the math on that, but anyway, one thing that I never see mentioned is how this supposedly fixed potential pool of MMO gamers stays the same, year in and out.  That doesn’t make sense to me.  Every year, more kids move up in age and can become gamers.  We have had a constant influx of new players over the lifetime of the genre, not just one fixed group that was playing back in 2004 and hasn’t changed since.

I guess it’s a perspective thing.  We see the MMO community as copies of us — what we’ve done, where we’ve been, what we’ve experienced.  And that isn’t the case at all.  There are baby new gamers right now alongside grizzled old vets who have been playing since MUD1 came out.  Some players were forged in the fires of WoW, some in RuneScape or Elder Scrolls Online.  We’re an incredibly diverse group that has a diverse history with online gaming, and people are coming and going all of the time.

Sign me up to be a player patron!

gobsteveholtGuilds are sometimes great at fostering communities that want to help each other and lend a hand.  Not always, but sometimes.  A few MMOs I know have dedicated player assistance channels or volunteer groups that prowl newbie zones to give assistance.  LFG systems and general zone chat are more iffy sources of help when one needs it.

What I want to know is that when the discussion comes around to talking about how MMOs can get players together to do content, why haven’t we heard more or seen more about systems that encourage and even reward hookups between helpers and those who need a hand?

I’ve had a thought bouncing around in my head that I would love to see in MMOs, and while I’ve never heard of it, it doesn’t mean that it’s not been done (and if it has, please let me know in the comments).  What I’m thinking of is an actual game system that connects people for the specific purpose of help beyond the generic mishmash of an LFG finder.

Say that I’m an experienced player and would like to volunteer a few hours a week to guiding newbies through content or helping those struggling with various spots.  What if there was a patron finder that I could pull up and then post my current availability.  Or say that I’m fresh in a game and could use a half-hour of a gamer’s time to help me knock out a series of challenging quests.  What if there was a patron board that I could pull up, look for those who are online and up for that type of play, and then could be connected with them instantly?

It really would need to be something separate from LFG finders, because I’ve never seen those work for the purposes of hooking people up for anything other than dungeons, even if there are options to, say, ask for companionship while questing in a zone.  Think of it as in-game charity work, where players could help out because they genuinely want to better the game as a whole and foster growth within the community.  Now, the devs could even tie rewards to being a patron and I wouldn’t complain, but it’d be so neat if there was a system that would just facilitate a match between the helpers and the helpees.

Every once in a while I wouldn’t mind to spend an evening giving someone else a hand, but how do I go about doing that in most MMOs?  I could bounce around zones or spam global chat to say that “Hey, anyone need a hand?”, but man that’s awkward.

Have we seen this in MMOs?  Would you use this type of system to help or be helped?  Would rewards need to be attached to make it attractive to volunteers?

The worst time for a new MMO

stormThere’s one stretch of time that I loathe for any new MMO (or red-hot expansion), which is the period of time between two and four months following release.  Up until then, it’s been a hoot: tons of excitement and anticipation for launch, the big event of launch day, the honeymoon period, and the exploration of the game’s content.

But then when an MMO gets to be just old enough to lose that honeymoon luster but not old enough to really be established, it goes through a rocky period.  I observed this with both ESO and WildStar, cases that were exacerbated by the increased pressure of a subscription hanging overhead.

During this period, you get some of the backlash.  People have figured out if they like the game or not, if they’ve planted roots or not.  Those who leave do so vocally and usually with many others.  Those who had overly high expectations are now confronted with reality and have to make that choice.  And it’s pretty easy to get the impression that this is a mass exodus, that everyone’s leaving, and that the game is failing.

Of course, this isn’t the case.  I know people still playing and loving ESO.  I’m still playing and greatly enjoying WildStar, as is my guild.  It’s just a fact of life that more people go into a new MMO than will be wanting to play it for the long haul.

The good news is that after this somewhat depressing period, a new era emerges that’s by far my favorite because it is more stable and peaceful.  That’s when the game gets its legs, figures out if the business model is working, focuses on much-needed content, and the community has settled down.

To co-opt the Gartner hype cycle (blue are my additions):

hype cycleSometimes it’s more fun to go back to an MMO that’s been out for a while because there’s so little drama involved with playing it or leaving it.  It’s not the hot newness, it’s just a game that has (probably) gotten better over time.  And there is certainly no rule nor law that says that once you play and leave an MMO, you can never return.  I think the community returns more often than you’d think, just without grand statements or worrisome discussions.