Lists and lifestyle changes

Back in January, CGP Grey over on YouTube posted a terrific video about New Year’s Resolutions and how we have such a hard time meeting those. Instead of making resolutions, he advises creating a “theme” for each year that you follow without trying to slavishly adhere to specific lifestyle changes. It’s a great idea and one that I think I was already following in 2020 when I decided that this year’s theme would be “Intentional Organization” in my life.

By intentional organization, I meant that I would start taking steps — more steps than before, at least — to organize my environment, my routine, and my goals. Going back 10 or 20 years, you’d discover a Syp who wasn’t that organized, who kept to dos and calendar appointments solely in his head, and who often procrastinated. About five years back, I adopted a task manager that helped to put my daily life on track and keep me focused on pursuing specific goals for work, my life, and our household. But that still left messy stuff all around me, and that’s what I’ve been trying to address.

Probably the biggest way I’m doing that is through lists. I love lists. I mean, I really, really love lists. My wife is a big list-maker, and I put her to shame. For example, when we moved to Buffalo back in 2018, I created a six-page document that was nothing but lists of indoor and outdoor activities that I researched for the kids. I have a list of 200 games to research for The Game Archaeologist. And I have lists for my media consumption, mainly because I don’t get through TV shows, books, and games as fast as I used to and want to be a lot more intentional about what order I’m approaching them.

The reason I bring this up is that in less than a month, our family is going to go through a pretty seismic change. My wife has decided to put in notice at her work, and we’ll be going down to a one-income household. We think we can do this, but the budget will be a lot more tight than it used to be, and I’m taking steps now to curb my extra spending — most of which would go to various forms of entertainment.

That’s why I’ve been wielding my Great and Mighty Lists to prepare for this lifestyle change. I’m going to try to keep all future spending on any entertainment as minimal as possible, relying instead on taking advantage of the backlogs of stuff that I’ve accumulated and neglected over the years. I have scores of unlistened audiobooks and unread regular books, not to mention plenty of games on GOG, Steam, and Epic that have been sitting there. And through Bookbub and Epic, I’m still getting more free stuff on a weekly basis.

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks organizing this master list for my media so that I have a clear understanding of what’s next in my queues for reading, watching, listening, and playing. It’s a bulwark against being ignorant of what I do have and falling into that trap of spending money to fill boredom. It might seem silly, but the goal of this is to be a better steward of what I have so that I’m not buying stuff just to buy it (not that I’ve ever been that much of a spender).

As for MMORPGs, I am not as worried. Most of them are either purchased already or free, so swapping around won’t be a problem. I think our family is going to maintain a World of Warcraft subscription, since my wife and kids all enjoy it (and my wife doesn’t have a lot of gaming passions, so I’m inclined to be supportive when she does show signs of liking a title).

Instead of allowing this situation to hem me in, I’m using lists to plot a course where I have the freedom to choose within thrifty boundaries. My entertainment needs are way, way down on the list of priorities for our family budget, anyway. If I can keep from spending much (or any) on this stuff in 2020 while starting to make good headway on the backlogs that plague us all, it’ll be a two-for-one goal achieved.

10 games in my backlog I’d like to play in 2020

A couple of weeks ago, there was much noise made among the blogosphere about giving love to one’s gaming backlog. I guess if we can’t find the time or energy to play these games, paying them lip service in a blog post is a good consolation prize, eh?

Oh, who am I to criticize, I do this sort of thing all of the time. In fact, I thought it’d be fun to go through my three digital platforms (Epic, Steam, and GOG) and pull out a total of 10 games that, time permitting, I’d like to actually play this year. Here we go!

#10 – Subnautica (Epic)

I’ve played this in the past, but I’ve never actually beaten the story mode, and that’s something I think I would really like to do. To date, Subnautica is the only survival game I’ve actually liked and played extensively.

#9 – Outer Wilds (Epic)

This is another game I’ve played and kind of want to beat, although I got frustrated at the wonky platforming. It is a very intriguing game, however.

#8 – Rebel Galaxy Outlaw (Epic)

I was really excited about this space shooter when I first got it, and then I dropped it after a single game session. I probably need to give it some extra love and a few more sessions to get into its groove.

#7 – Rise of Nations and Kohan (Steam)

A couple of old favorite RTS titles that I bought to revisit for a Nostalgia Lane or Retro Gaming post. That needs to happen.

#6 – Chrono Trigger (Steam)

I wanted to do a Retro Gaming series for this, but the Steam version kept glitching on me and I had to give up. Hopefully that’s fixed? I’m up to try again!

#5 – Kentucky Route Zero (Steam)

Now that this adventure game’s actually finished after who knows how many years, I want to see what the weird fuss is about.

#4 – The Curse of Monkey Island (GOG)

The third game is a divisive one among the community, but I’ve heard more good than bad and want to continue my playthrough of this funny pirate series.

#3 – Sam and Max Hit the Road (GOG)

Can you believe I’ve never played this? It’s a classic! How dare I! I’m a horrible human being! At least I’ve played…

#2 – Day of the Tentacle (GOG)

…wait, I haven’t played this one either? I AM SCUM. Absolute scum. When will I pay for my crimes?!?

#1 – Wasteland 2 (GOG) or Divinity Original Sin 2 (GOG)

With Wasteland 3 and 1 (remastered) coming out this year, I’m shame-faced that I haven’t played the second one after it’s been sitting in my library for so long. Or… I could get into Divinity Original Sin 2, which I’ve really, really been meaning to play through, especially with its new story difficulty mode. I probably don’t have time for both, though.

New solo games I want to play in 2020

Last week, PC Gamer asked its community what games everyone was looking forward to playing this year. While I’ve talked about the MMOs and updates that I’m anticipating, I haven’t spoken as much about solo games. That’s partially because I have too many on my backlog as it is, but also because it’s not where my head is at most of the time. But if I had to pick a half-dozen or so titles that I wouldn’t mind playing in 2020, they would be…

Cyberpunk 2077

Everyone seems to be hotly anticipating this one. I’m more like lukewarm anticipating while I wait to see what the final product looks like. The cyberpunk setting is a huge draw, though, and I hope to Keanu that the studio gets it right.

Space Haven

This Rimworld-esque colony sim should be going into “stable early access” this year, and I will be there for day one. It looks amazing and if it’s even half as good as Rimworld but with pixel art, then I’ll be so content.

Bloodlines 2

Having just played through Bloodlines 1 last year for retro gaming, sure, I’ll see what the fuss is about when the sequel arrives. Not the biggest vampire fan in the world, but the first game nailed a great setting and roleplay experience. Here’s hoping for a solid follow-up.

Age of Empires IV

May AoE4 herald the great return of the real-time strategy game! I deeply love the Age of Empires series and can’t wait to see what the fourth installment will be like.

Baldur’s Gate 3

Mostly because I liked the second game — like any other RPG fan, I wager — I’ll be on board with this title. I know very little about it, so I’ll wait until a release date grows near to do some serious research.

Wasteland 3 & Wasteland Remastered

Man, I need to play Wasteland 2, don’t I? It’s been sitting in my bin forever. But the third game, set in the Rockies, has been getting some serious buzz. AND the studio just announced that it’s remastering the first game, which definitely deserves a shot. Can do a whole trilogy with modern aesthetics now.

The Outer Worlds DLC

I think Obsidian said that it’s working on DLC for Outer Worlds, so here’s hoping we see some in 2020. It was a great game and I’ll be wanting to replay it — but I’ll probably wait until there’s some more content in it for a second try.

Evolving MMO subscriptions

Even with all of the varied business models for MMOs, I have to imagine that the finance team lusts after subscriptions the most. Regular, dependable revenue has to be so much better for budgeting than irregular microtrans — if you can get enough people to subscribe, of course. There have been many different ways that games have attempted to do this, such as punishing non-subbers (SWTOR) to sweetening subscription packages.

But what about a subscription… that evolves the longer you stay subbed?

In my recent excursions into Neverwinter, I had never planned on subscribing. I wasn’t even aware that the game had a sub — a VIP program, it’s called — but my guildies recommended it to me and I took a look. It seemed like a good enough deal for a single month to try out for some XP bonuses, a daily free lockbox key, and a daily character retraining token. But what really interested me, from a journalistic standpoint, was that the VIP program got progressively better the more you used it.

Each month you sub, it bumps up the VIP rank and tacks on more goodies, evolving the subscription package until it finally hits its maximum benefits 12 months into it (and those do not have to be 12 consecutive months; you’ll never degrade your VIP levels even if you drop the sub).

It’s not a new idea, but I think it’s a good one for encouraging and rewarding subscribers rather than penalizing them. Well, maybe people get so used to having those bonuses that dropping the sub feels like a penalty… I’m sure there’s a large measure of psychology in play here. Subbing every month isn’t just retaining benefits, it’s about adding more to them. That actually makes you happy to pay rather than reluctantly willing.

I’m not over the moon in love with this model, but it did make me think about ways that studios could push past the flat, unchanging subscription model and toward something more exciting.

Torchlight, Magic, and the downgrading of MMOs

I guess I want to preface today’s post by saying that I will never advocate that every game in the world needs to become an MMORPG. I’m totally fine with studios setting a vision for what they want to make with whatever features and then going for it. If that’s single-player, multiplayer, co-op, or MMO, so be it. But it’s started to irk me when studios start to make MMORPGs and then along the way downgrade them into something less, perhaps to appease the virulent anti-MMO crowd out there.

Beware: There may be virtual strawmen in this article.

We’re in a weird era for MMOs right now. There are some titles enjoying extremely long and profitable lives and plenty of crowdfunded and investor-funded MMOs on the way. Emulators are becoming more common, volunteer-staffed projects are dotting the landscape, and development is skewing away from WoW clones while heading in exciting new directions. But there are also fewer full-fledged MMORPGs in development, and out of those, only a handful boast a reasonably big budget and studio muscle behind them.

What prompted this post was that recently, Cryptic/PWE had two titles under its umbrellas that were described as MMORPGs — Magic Legends and Torchlight Frontiers. As a big fan of Star Trek Online and Neverwinter, I was understandably excited about seeing what other MMOs would come from this company. But then Magic Legends revealed that it wasn’t really an MMO, and about a week or two later, Torchlight Legends rebranded as Torchlight III while dropping its massively multiplayer scope. Both became, more or less, Diablo clones with some multiplayer and persistent characters but far less than what I’d hoped for.

Seeing MMOs downgrade into something less is really disheartening to me. I may be tolerant and supportive of all types of video games, but MMORPGs are where my heart is at. This is what excites me the most and gets the most of my gaming time, and by gum, I want to see more of them made and successfully launched!

Magic and Torchlight aren’t the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing happen. Remember H1Z1? SOE’s weird successor to Star Wars Galaxies (for some reason) that was supposed to be an MMO? And then it became a battle royale title and the MMO was dropped for good. It’s what a lot of folks are fearing about Ashes of Creation or any other developing MMO that abruptly announces a side project.

And then there are studios that were formerly all about the MMOs taking definitive steps backwards. Funcom? It was all about MMOs, and then it was about survival sandboxes and weird solo spin-offs. Seems like this is what’s happening with PWE right now too.

I get it — making MMORPGs is hard, and they’re no longer going to succeed just on the novelty of what they are. But I’m growing weary of studios flinching at the challenge and then reducing their scope until the games they churn out are small and forgettable.

Swing for the fences, people. We love to cheer on a home run, not a bunt.

Looking ahead to the big MMO drops of 2020

Here we are, almost one month into 2020, and I still feel like I’m trying to get a handle on the full year ahead. I know there’s a lot coming in MMOs — updates, unlocks, expansions, launches — and I wanted to sort out which ones I’m anticipating the most.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands — It’s now been a few months since I’ve played World of Warcraft, and I don’t feel any incredible urge to get right back in at present. I’m done with Battle for Azeroth and still not pleased with Blizzard’s actions last year, so it can sleep in the doghouse for a while more as I have fun elsewhere. That said, I’m all about new expansions, and while I’m not ecstatic over the feature list of Shadowlands, I’m always up for a romp through new zones (I do like the afterlife theme). Plus, I might want to take a new alt up through the revised leveling process to see how that feels.

Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor — You can keep your vikings and vampires, but northern zones and underground cities have my attention. There’s so much I haven’t played through in this game yet, so while I’m not starved for a new expansion, I’ll welcome it. Probably Greymoor’s biggest effect will be to boost my excitement for the game at large.

Lord of the Rings Online — Still waiting to hear about content plans for 2020 on the regular servers, so all I know right now is that I’ll be working on Riders of Rohan on the progression server come mid-February. No more alts, at least not this year.

Torchlight Frontiers — Definitely a Day One acquisition for me. Really ready for this game to come out and be a good 30-minute MMO in my rotation.

Phantasy Star Online 2 — Sometimes games are more about curiosity than an overwhelming desire to dive in, and that’s where I stand with this title. I’ll try it out, see if it’s for me, and go from there. I definitely do want to try it, in any case.

New World — Depends how PvE-friendly and relatively stable this ends up being. I’m getting the feeling the team is rushing this to launch, but we’ll see. Might be relying more on word-of-mouth than normal to determine if I want to take a crack at it.

Book of Travels — I try not to think about this one too much because I so, so want to play it and yet I can’t force myself to believe that it’ll actually make its 2020 release window. Could be really cute, could be frustrating, I have no idea. But it’ll be different!

Magic Legends — I’m a bit bummed that Cryptic scaled back from a regular MMORPG to an action MMO with this one, but even so, it’s Cryptic and I’ll play pretty much anything that studio puts out. The card collection and deck building aspects could be really appealing, too.

MMO developers and communication channels

Here are two questions that I think are pertinent for any MMO player: How often should developers communicate with players and through which channels should they communicate?

These are questions that bounce around in my mind a lot because I’m not only a player but also an MMO journalist that is seeking and using such communication in my articles. What I’ve come to realize over the course of a decade or so of doing this is that there is no standard answer to either one. And that can be incredibly frustrating.

The best studios are the ones where they communicate regularly (at least weekly for longer dev diaries or wrap-up posts) and engage daily (answering smaller questions and addressing concerns) through as many communication channels as is available to them. But what I find is that many CMs end up slacking off on the frequency and favoring just one or two channels while ignoring all of the rest. When this happens, information is passed along haphazardly to just a fraction of the playerbase while the community team pats itself on the back and says “mission accomplished!”

One of my first initiatives as a senior pastor when I came to my church was to make sure that communication was top-notch. That meant different committees had to be talking to each other and that we were doing ALL that we could to get important info out through as many channels as we could. Previously, they relied on printed Sunday bulletins for all announcements. Now, we use bulletins, text messaging, a weekly email newsletter, powerpoints on posted monitors, flyers, Facebook, and a website. I cannot depend on everyone using just one channel, so I use all of them to get the coverage as complete as possible.

I’d think this would be the type of thinking with studios, but nope. To pick on one I’m familiar with, Standing Stone Games (LOTRO, DDO) tucks away almost all of its dev/player communication either in scattered forum posts or in lengthy livestreams during which a CM is playing a game and might or might not talk about something important. Really important announcements go to Twitter. There haven’t been dev diaries (blog posts) in ages. There isn’t any sort of dev Q&A session with the actual devs. We hear from the producer just once a year in a longer post. I’m constantly dinging the studio for its poor communication because it has so many more avenues for quick and more comprehensive coverage.

Consider how many channels a studio has:

  • The website (dev diaries, videos, pages)
  • Forum interaction
  • Livestreams
  • AMA sessions (Reddit, etc.)
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Other social media
  • The launcher
  • The in-game welcome announcement on the chat panel and mail system
  • In-game popup screens (welcome)
  • Press releases to media outlets
  • Interviews
  • Email newsletters

If you wanted maximum player interaction, you’d take to the forums, Reddit, and Twitter. If you want the most comprehensive coverage, especially for announcements, you’d leverage email, the launcher, and in-game popups. If you’d want the most publicity, media outlets, YouTube, and interviews would be the way to go. But my point is that you wouldn’t get complacent and rely on just a small handful of these, because you’re going to miss people while thinking that you did your job by getting info out there.