A Glorious Future of Flexibility

I personally have no interest in APB, despite several of my friends raving about it, but I am pretty enthused about their interesting pricing model.  It’s basically a pay-as-you-play subscription (or you could go for a $10 traditional unlimited sub), which isn’t new at all, but it’s something we haven’t seen here in the west since the golden days of Compuserve.  To me, this model takes a lot of the pressure of having to play just that title to get your “money’s worth” for the month — instead, hey, you don’t waste anything.  You play as short or long as you like, and you don’t have to feel guilty about juggling MMOs.

I’m really loving how companies are experimenting with these payment options, because we as the consumers are going to benefit the most from it.  More!  More!

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Guild Wars: Nothing To See Here, Folks. Seriously. Move Along.

I imagine that the folks over at ArenaNet just love their little surprises.  According to the fans of the Guild Wars franchise, they’re well known for making people wait and wait and wait and wait and wait and wait and  HOLY CRAP IT’S NEW NEWS!  This has the effect of making millions of nerds across the world suddenly pee their britches without warning, which is unfortunate if it also happens during work hours.

Which, of course, this did.

ArenaNet’s all-out, shove-it-down-your-throat marketing blitz for Guild Wars 2 made me think of that old Simpsons episode, where all the kids wanted the game Bonestorm, which had a catchy commercial where a psychopathic Santa screamed at the kids, “BUY ME, BONESTORM, OR GO TO HELL!”

If nothing else, it’s an excuse for me to post this awesome Milhouse picture:

And his truly excellent video game handle:

Man, I miss the days when Simpsons was cool, watchable and quotable.  Oh well.  Where were we?

Yes.  Guild Wars 2.

Anyway, I’m always watching how MMO companies handle pre-release marketing, because there seems to be no definite pattern to it all.  Some studios roll out new info in steady streams with the occasional spurt of info (aka TOR), others wait until they can charge people well over a hundred bucks to hear the news in person (aka WoW), and then you have the charming marketers who wait in bushes, patiently, until we’re completely unaware and then

STRIKE! STRIKE! STRIKE!

In a way, it’s really genius.  There’s absolutely nothing on the near horizon that’s of major importance, so ArenaNet has the stage.  They’ve released a mere token of information before this point, so people are starving for it.  And seeing as how the previous Big News was WoW making raiding changes (again), all of this comes like a breath of fresh air to blow away the stale discussions we’ve been having.

Not to mention that they waited for Guild Wars’ 5th anniversary, which undoubtedly will help to boost sales of that game (yet again).

There’s almost too much information for me to digest, which sometimes happens when it’s poured out like this.  Plus, I don’t want to start going GW2 rabid at this point, seeing as how we’ve got a long way to go before ever playing it.

What I do want to focus on is the shift in gameplay that they’re making with their event system.  Events in GW2 are more or less Public Quests 2.0, except that that’s all there is in the game world — there’s no huge amount of collected chores to go gather, do and get a reward.  Instead, you just wander until something catches your eye, and you participate in the event, whatever it may be.  It seems a little less structured than traditional MMOs, but I have to say — that’s very welcome at this point.

It’s a bit risky, as people like public quests but they haven’t been without their sticking points, particularly that they aren’t as fun when there’s too many to do and few people to do them with.  GW2 plans to make the events more dynamic, scaling up and down based on participation, which is intriguing — if it works.  I just like the idea of roaming without the heavy press of a To Do list on my back, getting into adventures without passing someone’s entrance requirements first.

Anyway, if you feel — as I do — buried under all of this new information, then GameDrone has an excellent bullet-point summary for you to absorb.

Six Things I’d Have Changed About DDO From The Beginning

Because Monday morning quarterbacking is what all bloggers live to do, here are six things I would’ve changed or done differently with DDO from the start:

1. More info on building classes and better respeccing

D&D is, by its very nature, a complex game.  That complexity is part of its charm, but it also acts as a barrier to entry to those who are bewildered with terms like THAC0 and 3d6 and what a Fortitude vs. Will save means.  I think translating that into a MMO was a monumental task of which Turbine should receive a lot of praise for even attempting, but even their modified 3.5 ruleset was (and is) a little too unwieldy and prone to gimpage for the average player.

The sheer flexibility of the character building system in DDO is only matched by the vast ways you can make a less-than-optimal character and have no idea that you’re doing so until you’re well into the game.  DDO needed to spend a lot more time explaining builds and to be more forgiving with respecs afterward.

2. Go Slower

To my knowledge, the classic tabletop D&D experience isn’t summed up by a party of players full-on sprinting through dungeons and wildly, frantically flailing their weapons at anything that moves.  DDO lost a bit of its D&D-ness when it enabled — and promoted — players to focus on speed instead of thoughtfulness, careful party progression and combat that isn’t 99% mouse-clicking.

3. More storytelling elements

I really do love how awesome DDO’s dungeons are, especially with some of the scripted events that occur and the DM’s occasional voiceover.  But I’ve always felt like the dungeons were disconnected from each other and the world, just little pocket MMOs that had no greater story attached.

Considering how Turbine hit a home run with their storytelling devices in LOTRO, especially with the epic book line, I would’ve loved to see more pre-dungeon storytelling in DDO (that isn’t just a text box, of course), including cut scenes and interactive role-play.

4. Fully embraced the Eberron setting

I actually approve of Turbine securing the little-known Eberron setting for DDO instead of one of the more familiar (and far more overused) campaigns, but I’ve always felt like they never really embraced Eberron enough.  For one thing, the game takes place on a largely unpopulated continent that’s far away from the rest of the world’s population.  Eberron has a really cool magic/steampunk/Indiana Jones vibe going on, but not as much of that made it into DDO.

In addition, after throwing in the Warforged as a race, Turbine seemed to shy away from the unique classes and races that helped define the Eberron setting, instead choosing to cling to D&D staples instead.

5. More social tools

Another odd exclusion from D&D — the heart of the role-playing experience, mind you — was anything but a bare minimum of social and role-playing tools.  Unlike LOTRO, you don’t see players congregating in any areas for RP events (or, at least, any that I’ve seen), and there are few if any tools to encourage them to do so.  Guilds always seemed like extended friends list, but other than constantly run through dungeons, there wasn’t much else to do.

I’m glad DDO’s throwing in guild airships soon, but I would’ve liked to have seen a lot more social and RP tools from Day One, if only to give the world more depth and the community more of a reason to bond.

6. Use the current business model

Okay, in retrospect, there’s no way they would’ve known a few years ago just how successful this F2P/subscription-hybrid model would’ve worked, but can you imagine if it had been in place from launch?  If people didn’t have to choose between a $15 subscription for DDO and any other game, but could have both and just pay a little bit at a time to unlock modules?

Syp’s Theory of Red Flags

If a developer is gushing about some amazing new (or, at least, improved) feature in an upcoming game, and yet uses the one same example in each and every interview they do, then it’s a Bad Idea to assume that they have example two in the wings.

Age of Conan: The Future of MMORPGs

“Play AoC!  Because… because… you don’t even need to be online to level up!  It’ll just happen!”

I simply cannot understand the groupthink session that went into creating this bizarre feature, unless they were trying to trump the rest system seen in other MMOs.

What’s the point here?  What’s the message they’re trying to convey?

“Our game is so lame that we want you to play less of it?”

“The REAL game starts at the level cap, so we’re gonna get you there ASAP?”

“You’ve shelled out your $15 this month, so here — have fun with an officially sanctioned cheat?”

“Age of Conan: we reward lazy players who can’t be bothered to log in?”

I’m sorry, I sort of see where they were going with this, but it just smacks of counter-productivity.  What’s next, handing out epic gear every seven days, just ’cause?

Oh well.  Who needs to actually play games anyway?

Guild Wars: Manifestos Are Fun!

So today, ArenaNet’s blog suddenly hopped to life with a huge article entitled “Guild Wars 2 Design Manifesto”, in which they looked back on what made Guild Wars 1 a hit, as well as their plans for the sequel.

I think it’s incredibly easy to overlook and/or patronize Guild Wars’ place in the MMOsphere, especially when people dig out that stupid “It’s not a MMORPG” chestnut.  You’d think that in 2010, when we’ve seen online RPGs of every type, server structure, and play design come out, the Definition Police would give it a rest.  If it looks like a MMO, waddles like a MMO and quacks like a MMO, it’s a MMO with a weird vocal thing.

In any event, I think many MMOs wish that they had the selling power of Guild Wars, even if only in terms of box sales.  I remember back before GW launched, a lot of folks were worried that the business model — a subscription-free game fully funded by box and expansion sales alone — wouldn’t be viable in the long run.  Not to mention that GW just looked a heck of a lot different than most of the standard MMOs, what with its instancing, lack of a jump key, cut scenes, skill loadouts, and relatively low level cap.  And yet, hey, it worked, and worked gloriously.  I’m still amazed with just how good the game looks after all these years, and I’ll admit — Guild Wars 2 is vying with The Secret World for my second-most anticipated MMO of next year.

I really liked this quote from the Manifesto:

So if you love MMORPGs, you should check out Guild Wars 2. But if you hate traditional MMORPGs, then you should really check out Guild Wars 2. Because, like Guild Wars before it, GW2 doesn’t fall into the traps of traditional MMORPGs. It doesn’t suck your life away and force you onto a grinding treadmill; it doesn’t make you spend hours preparing to have fun rather than just having fun; and of course, it doesn’t have a monthly fee.

Lots of promises there, and we’ll see how they pan out, but I love the attitude, approach and (of course) no monthly fee thing.

In GW you experience the story of the world, but the story in GW2 is the personal story of your character as well. You fill out a biography at character creation time that defines your background and your place within the world, and that starts you on your path. Then the choices you make will take the story in different directions. Each time you play through the game, you can experience a different storyline.

Bloggers have long debated the importance of story in MMOs, with some of us saying that we’re well past the need for it, especially when we click past the quest text all of the time.  I disagree — I think a lot of the burnout and ennui of MMOs these days comes from that point when you’ve done all of the mechanics of the game to death, but you’ve lost the connection to the world that story provides.  It’s really encouraging to see TOR and TSW and GW2 put a lot of emphasis on story, choices and branching paths.

There’s a lot more in here, particularly outlining their efforts to ease players into socializing without forcing them to party or penalizing them when they do it, as well as their push to make combat more interactive (including environmental weapons).  Sure, you could read this whole manifesto with a cynical eye, a “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude, and that’s a safe way to play it.  But really, I’m thrilled.  I want to see this game.  I really am rooting for them to fulfill this quote:

It all gets back to our basic design philosophy. Our games aren’t about preparing to have fun, or about grinding for a future fun reward. Our games are designed to be fun from moment to moment.