MMO Fo’ Show – Ask Yer Questions!

riddlerWe had a lot of fun and interesting questions asked during our last podcast and we thought it would be cool to do that again. Do you have anything on MMOs that you’d like Snaffy or I to comment on or answer?

Post your (MMO) questions in the comment section below and we’ll address them when we record episode four this coming Monday!

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Delay Disappointment: A Picture Essay

Various graphics DDO forumites have posted expressing their feelings over the recent delay of DDO Unlimited:

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That said, Turbine has promised to “make this up” to current subscribers and/or eagerly awaiting players, which turns out to be this:

Any player who was a VIP on July 31st, 2009 will receive 999 Turbine Points on the live servers when DDO Unlimited launches on September 9, 2009. These points will be in addition to any other bonus points or items you are qualified to receive for launch day. Thanks for playing DDO!

Also,

But once beta is over, we’ll have: a veteran gift, a beta participant gift, the downtime gift, any points you may have purchased during the beta, and now this extra VIP gift (which happens to be the 999 Turbine Points) for your characters on Unlimited.

It was a bad call, Turbine, a bad call!

AliensBurke“A bad call?  These people are unsubscribing, Turbine! Don’t you have any idea what you have done here? I ‘m gonna make sure they nail you right to the wall for this, you’re not gonna sleaze your way out of this one. Right to the wall.”

I mean, what else do you call springing an announcement of a one-month delay a WEEK before a major content patch/game overhaul is due to go live?

But that’s exactly what Turbine’s done today — they’re delaying the release of DDO:EU (aka “free to play DDO”, aka “Module 9”) from next week until September 9th.  They cite the following as the reason for the delay:

“While we are very pleased with the performance of the game and are excited about the response from the players, we are committed to delivering a high-quality experience. We feel that more time is needed to deliver on this commitment.”

In other words, “something is very much broken in the lands of DDO”, whether it be the store or the new high-level content, and Turbine considers the fallout from a one-month delay to be a better alternative than releasing it next week and suffering a potentially greater fallout from angry players dealing with broken content.

Still, other than the clever 9/9/09 date, this is a PR failure for Turbine, and a pretty dumb move all around.  Andrew over at Teeth & Claws notes that the nerd rage for this is already insanely high, and that’s putting it lightly.  Current subscribers have had their patience tested and stretched to the near-breaking point by the better-part-of-a-year wait since the last content patch, and all you have to do is utter the words “mod 9” on the forums to see wound-lickers emerge in great hordes.

Even more than that, the timing of this announcement couldn’t be worse.  First of all, you don’t pump up the hype for a major relaunch of a game and then pull the plug on it — albeit temporarily — a mere week before it was supposed to go live.  A delay announcement a month ago, sure, that’s understandable.  But a week before?  Seriously?

Plus, you have to consider that in one fell swoop, Turbine’s thrown away one of the biggest thing DDO:EU’s launch had going for it: it was the only major MMO release slated for August.  It would’ve had a whole month to bring people on board and for the media to spill fountains’ worth of ink over talking about it.  Now they’re going to put it smack in the middle of September, right when both Champions Online and Aion releases.  Guess which of the three games is going to get squeezed out of the big press announcements when that happens?

Personally, I’m a little cheesed.  I was going to unsubscribe as of August 14th and continue playing as a F2P title, but now I have to consider ponying up for another month.  I was also really looking forward to the new systems, content and the store, which by all accounts from the beta, are really well-done.

Again, this just might not have been avoidable on Turbine’s behalf, but it ranks up there with Mythic’s “Oh we’re going to yank four capital cities and four classes from the release that’s coming in a month-and-a-half” announcement as a textbook way of shooting yourself in the foot when you should be sprinting.

Update: Turbine community rep Patience released a bit more info on the why’s of this delay: “I just wanted to step in and address the issue of the announcement coming only a few days before launch.

The LAST thing anyone here wanted to do was delay the launch we’ve all been working so hard on. Our players aren’t the only ones who have been looking forward to this and even planning their lives around it. Earlier this week we were sure we were on track for the August 4th launch date, had advertising purchased for it, shifts scheduled, etc. Smiles all around, sighs of relief.. and then the flood of players during Monday’s live event on Lamannia showed us that no, we’re not ready. We need to add more capacity, we need to fix some late-breaking bugs, and as much as we hated to do it, we need to delay the launch date. The past couple of days have been spent investigating what needed to be done so we could have a release date we were confident in, because we have a new last thing we want to do, and that’s slip the date again.

Until we were confident in our new date, we didn’t say anything, and we’re really sorry if that gave the impression that we were hiding something – but it was preferable to having a few days of panic with an unknown date. Stay tuned for news on how we’ll try to make this up to you!”

Champions Online: Pre-launch Sequence Initiated

gadget-boy-image-02You can almost see it: the big countdown clock on Cryptic’s wall, almost on the verge of tipping to the “One Month And Counting” point.  As they turn into the final four weeks before Champions Online is released, for better or for worse, I can’t help but wonder if they’re sweating bullets over there, and how much.

This is the “new” Cryptic’s sophomore effort, and one that will invariably be compared to City of Heroes (with people poised to be disastisfied on both sides: those who are upset that it’s not enough like CoH, and those angry that it’s too similar).  It’s the first of their trilogy of developing MMOs, along with Star Trek Online and an unnamed third project (D&D, or so the rumor goes).  Nobody expects Champions to blow to the top of the charts in terms of subscribers, but it is entering a sub-genre of MMOs that before had no competition — and now Cryptic is facing a fiesty older CoH that is quickly adding Champions-like features (such as power colors) and preparing for their Going Rogue expansion, and the upcoming DC Universe Online, which arguably has a stronger IP and the added attraction of playing villains.  Is Champions putting itself into a pincer trap where it will hobble out of the gate instead of fly?

Who knows, really.  I’m pulling for it — I don’t predict that Champions will be a flaw-free product at launch, and I’m aware of the major concerns that some players have, but we also know that Cryptic isn’t exactly twiddling their thumbs either.  Like all studios in the final month before launch, Cryptic has four jobs to do:

Job #1 – Get The Message Out

When you’re this near to launch, there’s almost no such thing as “over-hyping” your product — it’s absolutely essential to get out there, get out everywhere and spread the word of your game over and over and over again.  On one hand, this is an informational campaign, introducing Champions to those who might not have heard of it and filling them in as to its premise and features.  On the other hand, it’s a PR struggle to claim and re-claim the “message of the day”.

When it comes to journalism and bloggers and players, we have such limited attention spans these days that we’re constantly shifting and moving toward whatever pretty shiny topic is dangled in front of us at any given moment.  Major issues are brought up and discussed in a firestorm of introspection one week, and then dropped like a hot potato the next.  What Cryptic has to do is pretty much impossible: to get Champions to the forefront of any given day’s message, and keep it there.  This means they need to have a few major hole cards that will immediately suck in the interest of the media — the recent pre-order perks from different retailers was one such card.  Releasing more details power sets information is another.  They announce it, gaming sites regurgitate the info, and bloggers and forumites discuss it.

Job #2 – Close The Sale

There’s two major approaches to MMO launches these days, which usually depends on what kind of MMO you’re releasing.  Small MMOs tend to launch small, garner word of mouth, and grow from there; big, multi-million dollar MMOs absolutely have to launch big and stay big or get bigger.  For Cryptic, this means accumulating a critical mass of locked-in players for that first month of box sales and the second month of subscriptions.

Cryptic knows that they have a lot of folks already in their pocket, so they’re going to try to woo the “on the fence” folks who aren’t quite sure if they’re going to play or not, or if they’re looking to wait and see for a while.  They don’t want that — they want solid “yes” gamers.  So they have to make the sale by offering incentives, dropping the NDA and hoping the buzz is good enough to entice, and to let the crowds into the open beta (aka “demo”) to put their product where their mouth is.  Speaking of which…

Job #3 – Open Beta

Champions Online’s open beta begins in about a week, on August 5th.  At this point, there’s no hiding behind the veil of the NDA any longer.  Cryptic may claim that they still have a month to work on the game before launch, but in almost everyone’s eyes, once they’re in the beta, they’re judging it as if they’re playing the final product.

Unless the game is so horrid as to drive folks away unsatisfied, the open beta does a lot of good for the company.  It helps with stress testing the servers, for one thing, although the sheer influx of players not really caring to bug test whatsoever means that they’re not going to get the kind of quality bug reports they might’ve in closed beta.

It also has the potential to be a major PR coup.  Gaming sites and blogs absolutely go nuts over open betas, because people who for some reason don’t want to play the beta often like to read other people’s thoughts about playing it, and to live through that experience vicariously.  It will push Champions’ message to the top of the heap on various days, and help to combat other open betas that are also taking place (Aion, for example).

Job #4 – Extermination

The final job is the sheer cliff wall of pre-launch bug extermination.  Cryptic only gets one chance to launch the game, and it not only needs to launch smoothly on servers, but players encountering the game will be turned off if they encounter major coding issues from the start.  This is the proverbial “crunch time” for the Cryptic crew, a frenzied effort to eliminate as many bugs as possible, tidy up any unfinished launch features, and get their house in order for the thousands of visitors that are about to come tramping through it.

10 DDO Tips From One Newbie To Another

OOTS SampleIf you’re considering picking up DDO Unlimited next week — and why not, since it’s free-to-play? — then I’m making it my mission to help you overcome the initial hurdles of understanding the game and to enjoy it more.  Here are 10 tips that I’ve discovered from personal experience that has made my DDO gaming time a lot more fun:

  1. Find a great guild and be up front with your “newbie” status. There’s a lot of welcoming, helpful guilds in DDO that know how hard the game can initially be, and are more than welcome to dole out advice and assistance once you’re part of their pack.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help, but don’t be needy/greedy either — some might give you a few items to help you on your way, but you shouldn’t expect them.
  2. Spend some time getting to know D&D and DDO’s unique lingo and concepts. What’s BAB and why is it important?  What about resists?  Why am I always missing when I try to attack?  These questions and more need to be answered for you to really get a grip on the game, so dedicate a bit of time to doing research on the forums and DDOwiki so that you’ll understand what classes can do what, why such-and-such is important, and how things work.
  3. Get to know the grouping tool ASAP. Yes, you can solo and buy hirelings, but forget all that — DDO is a group-oriented game, and you should be grouping in it, period.  It not only opens up a lot more content for you, but it’s a lot more fun and enjoyable as well.  DDO has a terrific grouping tab on the social screen that lets you see what currently-forming groups are out there in certain level ranges doing certain content.  Don’t be afraid to hop in and join!
  4. Be up front with your newbie status in groups. Unless you make a point of saying so, a lot of players will assume you know what you’re doing, where you’re going and how to run each dungeon.  Get past any personal pride and tell your party that you’re a bit new and would appreciate if they let you know anything important for each dungeon run you do.  You’ll find that folks are generally patient and more than willing to cut you some slack, as long as you try your best.
  5. Explore Stormreach and pick up every quest you see. As far as I can tell, DDO does not have a limit on accepted quests, so you can pick up all of the quests — and you should do so, because you don’t want to be hunting around for the questgiver while the rest of your party is waiting at the dungeon.  Explore the town and get familiar with what is in what section.  Envision the Marketplace as the main “hub” of the city, with different sections and Houses branching off from it.
  6. Get Coin Lord favor ASAP. Each dungeon run not only contributes to an overall Favor rating, but also Favor attached to specific houses.  Early on, you’ll be doing a lot of Coin Lord runs, which should get you to 75 Favor with them quickly.  Once you do, you’ll get a note in your mailbox that says you should visit their representitive in the Marketplace.  Do so, and he’ll give you a fourth inventory tab for free!
  7. Collect and carry different armor/weapons for different situations. Unlike some MMOs, you won’t be just gradually updating one outfit of armor over time — if you’re smart, you’ll have several outfits and weapons to be exchanged based on the situation.  Silver weapons, for instance, are far more effective in fighting the undead.  Some outfits offer better resistance to specific damage types, like acid or fire, in case you run into a dungeon with a whole bunch of acid/fire traps or creatures that deal that damage.  And even if you’re a melee build, you’ll want a ranged weapon on hand in case you have to do damage from afar.
  8. If you can spare a chunk of time, run some of the bigger quest chains repeatedly for great loot. Water Works (levels 2-4), Tangleroot (levels 4-6), STK and Delera’s Tomb are pretty much staples of the early game experience.  Each represent a series of quests that are usually done in order by a dedicated group, which take up a bit of time (around 2 hours minimum, although less for an experienced group) but reward quite well in terms of favor, XP and end loot.  The big plus is that there’s usually a lot of groups running these, so you won’t have too hard of a time finding some to tag along with.
  9. Be okay with imperfection, at least at the start. Face the facts: your first character won’t be ideal, perfect or optimal, so use it as a learning tool and be okay with picking things up as you go.  You WILL find out that you did such-and-such wrong way back at the beginning, or that you HAVE been neglecting doing something that any vet has long since known… but that’s okay.  It gets better.
  10. Don’t be obsessed with leveling. DDO is not a fast leveling game, although some have worked out systems to grind out XP as quickly as possible.  Sure, it’s great fun to hit a new level and have new content open up to you as a result, but the “end game” of DDO is pretty much the same as the journey — dungeons, dungeons and more dungeons.  Enjoy them as you go along, and don’t worry about rushing through it!

There was also a useful thread I saw posted on the DDO forums that offered newbie tips and tricks, and I wanted to repost a few of the better ones for you as well:

  • You should turn voice chat on even if you don’t expect to talk to anyone, because it also toggles your ability to hear other people.
  • Each quest has normal/hard/elite difficulties. You must do normal before you can do hard, and you must do hard before you can do elite.  If you can find someone who has the quest unlocked on elite, you can jump ahead and do that content without having to worry about unlocking the lesser difficulty levels.
  • You need to have ammo for your ranged weapons. Yes, you can actually run out of ammo in DDO.  Some spells have material components. If you run out of components you won’t be able to cast those spells.
  • You can speed up your health/mana regeneration in town by eating food or drinking potions in taverns. This food/drink is sold by barkeepers.
  • Loot in DDO is obtained pretty much only in chests and is assigned directly to people, randomly.  There is no “ninja looting”, so don’t feel like people are grabbing your stuff.

Hellgate London II

The action RPG/FPS didn’t fare so well in the case of Hellgate London (alas), but we’re looking at a possible round 2 with Borderlands, coming this fall.  I didn’t hear much about this until today, when I saw the recent trailer and looked into the game… it really looks intriguing.  It’s not a proper MMO — it’s 4 player co-op, or anything down to solo, I assume.  But it’s got leveling, 3+ million gun combinations, random maps and dozens of quests in a scifi-wasteland setting.  I may have to get this.