Are we getting too cheap for MMOs?

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When I was growing up, our family was never very affluent. Oh, we didn’t starve, but we were most definitely in the lower-middle-class. Brand-new expensive purchases were extremely rare; my parents lived frugally and taught us to do so as well. My mom always looked for sales, clipped coupons, and even to this day shops at the dollar store for many basics.

I’ve had a weird reaction to this as I grew older. I went through a phase where I resented all of this penny-pinching and treated myself to the best of anything I wanted. But then I started to get more frugal, especially once my wife entered the scene and got us to stick to a budget.

It’s one of the reasons why MMORPGs have appealed to me, because while these games obviously wanted my money, if I was smart about it, I could get a lot of play for very little cash down. The time spent playing an MMO was time not spent dropping another $60 on a brand-new computer game that I would be bored with in a week. Considering how many years I’ve been playing some titles, I think that I’ve saved a lot in impulse purchases while getting my money’s worth in this genre.

The other week on the Massively OP podcast, we were tackling a listener question about whether or not we as an MMO community have become too cheap (or frugal) for these games. And that was an interesting question that made me think of how much the industry has changed over the past decade, particularly with its business model, and how that’s affected what we play and what we pay.

Cast your mind back to 2009 or before. It wasn’t THAT long ago, really, and in that time there was pretty much no option to play for free except in a small handful of titles. For the most part, if you wanted to play an MMO, you would have to plunk down your $15 a month, the same as anyone else. And that spread out the revenue generation very evenly while causing players (such as myself) to make strategic choices as to which games they were playing at any given time. Spending money on more than one or two titles felt extravagant, particularly because there was this nagging sense of guilt of wasting money if I wasn’t playing a game I was currently renting.

Now things have shifted dramatically, of course. There are a myriad of business models, but the end result is that there are countless choices of games to play that don’t require up-front costs. Whales help to finance F2P titles for us cheaper folk, buy-to-play titles could technically allow you to play forever without any further financial investment, and even in subscription games like EVE Online or World of Warcraft, there are ways to “earn” your subscription through the in-game economy.

Some people spend a lot more money on MMOs now than they ever used to, of course. But there are also the players — like me — that are spending a lot LESS than they ever have in the past, particularly during the subscription-only era. Other than a race change in World of Warcraft in September and pre-purchasing RIFT: Starfall Prophecy back when, I don’t think I’ve spent a single penny on MMOs this fall so far. So have I become too cheap for this genre? Am I part of the problem of declining revenues and increasingly desperate attempts by studios to monetize every aspect of the game?

I took the position on the podcast that I am not responsible for the financial success of a studio. I can pay money if I feel like it or if there is something that the studio is selling that I want, but I’m not going to wring my hands as a solo consumer and worry about how some corporation is doing. I want the games to survive, but my financial obligation is first and foremost to my family. Being smart with your money is important, and if I can enjoy MMO gaming on a budget, why shouldn’t I?

I’m not completely resistant to paying for stuff, it’s just that very rarely an MMO is selling what I want. I’d much rather pay for DLC and expansion content that I can play than for lockboxes, boosts, and shortcuts. Cosmetic outfits? Sure, if they look good enough and appeal to my tastes, but that’s always a toss-up.

Consumers like choice and value, and with MMOs it’s no different. Offer me something worth paying and I will pay — just ask Starfall Prophecy. I get something good if I buy that and am not penalized if I don’t. I’m happy to pay for that. I’m less happy to feel pressured into subscribing to SWTOR because the game will punish me if I don’t.

Maybe we are getting a little too cheap. Then again, you look at how much money we throw on crowdfunding campaigns for games we may or may not ever get — but certainly will not get right now — and there’s an indication that our wallets are at the ready if there’s something that excites and interests us.

Battle Bards Episode 86: World of Warcraft Legion

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With all of the unbridled love for World of Warcraft’s soundtrack on Battle Bards, historically, you know that we couldn’t let a new expansion score go without commentary. In this show, the three co-hosts tackle the weighty and lengthy Legion OST, cherry-picking their favorite tunes and confessing all manner of gaming sins.

Episode 86 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Kingdoms Will Burn” and “Dalaran Dawn”)
  • “Anduin”
  • “The Last Stand”
  • “Requiem for the Lost Cities”
  • “Highmountain”
  • “Suramar City”
  • “Totems of the Grizzlemaw Revisited”
  • “Lion’s Rest (Canticle of Sacrifice)”
  • Which one did we like the most?
  • Jukebox Picks: “America” from Civilization VI, “Tropos (Day)” from Owlboy, and “Me Too” from The Sims 4
  • Outro (“Karazhan 7.1”)

Battle Bards picks up a key endorsement

Thanks to Jinxed Thoughts for this kind endorsement of Battle Bards:

This is probably my favorite or at least one of my favorite VGM podcasts. Even though they have niched into MMO-music specifically, which initially had me thinking that I’d get bored with the podcast eventually, they manage to make so much from their topics. The dynamic between the three hosts is by far the best out of the podcasts I listen to – they have completely different tastes and are not afraid to tell eachother. This leads to interesting discussions about the quality of the different tunes and I especially enjoy hearing the different perspectives they often have on the very same tune. This podcast is also unique among the ones I listen to in that it intersperses the music with the talking, rather than listening to a tune (or two) and then talking about it which is the standard procedure, and it really works! Sound levels can be off sometimes, where the music is too loud to hear what they are saying, but that is only occasionally and definitely not enough to remove any of the fun from listening to this gang talking and bickering about MMO VGM. Highly recommended!

P.S. — New show tomorrow!

Try-It Tuesday: Twin Saga

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Try-It Tuesdays is a (semi) regular weekly feature in which I take a break from my current roster of games to play something else for an evening. You can check out past Try-It Tuesday adventures here or submit a suggestion for a future title in the comments!

This week I wanted to dig into an eastern MMO that launched a little while ago and had caught my attention for a few reasons. Twin Saga looked cute and attractive enough, but it was its mobile housing and reports of absolutely bizarre quest dialogue that made me think it was worth checking out. Plus, I’d had it on my computer for a month now, so let’s be done with it!

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The character creator takes place on a ship that’s cruising by a lot of scenery (nice touch). Great theme music. I did find it more than odd that six out of the game’s 10 classes are locked at launch. You have to access them by hitting certain milestones or achievements in the game itself. I’m not a fan of this type of class locking (FFXIV? I’m still sore at your Heavensward classes.).

I went with a gunslinger, who looked like he was waving about my aunt’s priceless vases so much as functional pistols.

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The game begins with Sypster here arriving on a ship that’s also carrying a pack-guinea pig(?) to eradicate a pack of wolves that are terrorizing an island. Kind of strange that they’re importing help, but any flimsy excuse to get us going is OK with me.

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The localization writer REALLY wants to earn his or her pay. “Traipse over with the slightest of saunters”? What is this madness?

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At least they put effort into it, which is a lot more than you can say for most MMOs. By now most games would have me killing three shrews or something, but here we are still talking. It’s really detailed, flowery, and strange stuff… but interesting too, and I’ll overlook a lot if something keeps my interest.

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This being an Asian game, there are some things to expect, such as auto-pathing and bumping into overwhelming cuteness by minute three. Dancing kitties? Yeah.

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Enraged by kittens running amok, the wolves soon attack and I’m introduced to Twin Saga’s combat system. It’s pretty standard MMO fare and feels good, with auto-attack punctuated by a couple of strong attacks. What is different, however, is that at the conclusion my character goes into a super-attack that involves pile-driving the head wolf into the ground. That… was not expected.

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Tremolo? Listen, I write professionally, and this game is throwing words at me that I’ve never heard of before and slightly suspect that they are original creations of the localization team (or Google Translate having a field day).

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Even the tutorial instructions are bringing out laughs in me. I have just never seen this in MMOs.

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Twin Saga’s visuals are cartoony, but that’s not a terrible thing. The color palette is lush and vibrant.

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In one of the most abrupt MMO tutorial transitions ever, we go from hunting wolves to being caught in the midst of a conflict between some sort of evil super-queen and a nice paladin. Naturally, during all of this the game reveals that I’ve had a good queen living inside of me all along. Long, long story short, the paladin commits meteor-assisted suicide and I’m left with the charge to protect the queen. And presumably kill more wolves.

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In case you were wondering, yes, every NPC in this game is an over-the-top caricature and an excuse for the writer to indulge in his NaNoWriMo project.

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I’m finding it difficult not to screenshot and share every bit of quest text. “Splayed out like a naked mole rat” will be worked into my conversational phrases this next week.

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It’s not only the quest text that made me do a double-take, however. What in Sam Hill is this…? Asia, why are you so nutty sometimes?

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From what I saw, Twin Saga is an incredibly on-rails theme park MMO with pretty hilarious writing and adequate combat. It was about 20% jamming on the quest tracker box to have the game auto-path and complete objectives for you, 60% talking with various characters while wondering if you’re having a fever dream, and 20% fighting. Maybe less than 20% fighting. That’ll probably change later, but other than the novelty of the quest text, I can’t see a huge reason to keep playing.

The Secret World: Arachnophobia (City of the Sun God #8)

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(Join Syp as he attempts to document a complete playthrough of The Secret World from start to finish. What will The Secret Adventures discover next? Find out in this exciting installment! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

Desert Uprising (side mission)

Let’s kick off this session with a trio of nearby side missions, shall we? As par for the course in this game, this quest starts off with a dead Orochi agent (zone count: 532 and rising). He’s got a device that helpfully points me in the direction of three sand golems that would love nothing more than to bash my head in. They are named, curiously, The Slip, The Collapse, and The Ruin. Not sure what all that’s about, and since the mission never deigns to tell me, I guess I’ll never know.

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It Came from the Desert (side mission)

There’s a cute little sarcophagus lying around that’s apparently had a jailbreak — and I have to go put down the enormous and certainly-could-not-fit-in-that-wee-casket beast that escaped. It’s a remarkably easy mission, especially for TSW, although other than the impressive monster model there’s little of interest to it.

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From Ashes (side mission)

So I’m going into this small temple to pick up a side mission that I saw on the map, and I get a genuine little fright. I see a shadow on the floor moving, and when I look up, this enormous spider is dropping down through a hole in the roof nearly on top of my head. Now, I’ve seen a lot of giant MMO spiders in my time — heck, they’re practically a staple — but this one looks so icky and is animated perfectly that it gave me the willies.

Anyway, the mission itself is to go around tapping on urns and putting the erupting spirits to rest. They’re no pushovers, which means that the mission is a tad on the “slog” side, but I wasn’t in danger of dying either.

Mummy Massacre (side mission)

This mission barely deserves an entry, to be honest. You kill a couple mummies, then kill a big mummy that spawns, the end. Paramount will be making the motion picture for release in Summer 2018.

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They Were Beautiful Once (action mission)

Enough of the easy-peasy stuff — let’s get into a real quest, the kind that puts hair on your chest and makes you curse the day Funcom ever let mission designers off their leashes. I like the title here, reminds me of that Army of Darkness quote: “You once found me beautiful!” “Honey, you got reaaaaal ugly!”

Anyway, for the next three missions we’ll be hanging out with the simple-to-spell-and-pronounce Moutnefert. I like to call her “Mouty.” Mouty is one of the younger kid-statues and the one absolutely obsessed with travel. She and her younger brother talk about how beautiful this area used to be before it became befouled, a situation that doesn’t seem to be improving much these days. Thanks, Obama!

We can’t make the garden look nicer or plant a few new ferns (Funcom: why not? Gardening skill line please!), but we can get revenge on the cultists for messing up all of this — and maybe find out a little of what they’re up to in the process.

This mission definitely earns its description as “action,” as it’s a whole lot of fighting through a particularly dense section of the oasis. The story unfolds in the environment and challenges, as we go from cultists looking around ruins to cultists using machines to dig up things to giant demons patrolling in the light due to their efforts. The big finale is tackling that creepy-as-all-get-out spider from earlier. Another player was actually fighting it, so I think I only had to shoot it three times before it died. Thanks, Obama!

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Dead Rising (action mission)

Another telling little conversation between three of the kids. One of the older sisters points out how the father has been telling or doing whatever is necessary to mollify the kids and get them to fulfill their destiny — one which, she notes, they had no say in. But things are falling apart, including the family, and the dead are being raised in the temple next door. Do these sentinels ever actually do anything productive other than yammer on?

While the previous mission sent me through a gauntlet in the garden, this one involves plowing through the ruins of the local temple itself. Nothing shockingly tough or surprising, although a giant sarcophagus at the end blows up and spits out another giant mummy to fight.

Is it me, or do these sacophagi look kind of… goofy? Like, out of place? Fisher-Price Secret World.

Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water (side mission)

At the temple there’s another small mission that can be done at the same time. Running around the top, I fought four different groups of summoners who were trying to call up a spirit called Eiz. He was… Eiz-y to defeat. YEAHHHHHH.

Star Control 2: Procreation vacation

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Control 2. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

In my souped-up starship, I now feel practically invincible and raring for a fight. Scouting around more star systems, I come across a rabid dog-bunny alien in a malfunctioning vessel that thinks, somehow, that I am Ur-Quan. Oh, the delicious irony!

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For you, the day I came to your small village was the most significant day of your life. For me, it was… Tuesday.

But egads does this guy have a chip on his shoulder. Would be a great ally against the Ur-Quan, don’t you think?

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So oddly enough, the way to this little guy’s good graces isn’t being kind to him or blowing him up, but to insult him. Repeatedly. The game tosses out many choice insults that I will have to remember for the next time that I’m in a bout of road rage.

After a few rounds of insults, he realizes that I’m not an Ur-Quan and decides to become my friend instead. His is a sad story, as he’s the last survivor of his entire species. Everyone else was in their system when they made their sun go nova to get rid of an invading fleet. Mutual assured destruction and all that. So for now, he’s just going to hang out here and guard what’s left of his system in a ship that’s falling apart.

So here’s the plan: We’re going to find this poor fella some girls and attempt to repopulate his species. The only problem is procuring them.

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“Klingons ahead, captain! Off the stern bow!” “That’s Star Trek, ya numbskull!”

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My quest to find some Shofixti females led me to these disgusting aliens called the VUX. In addition to being a Japanese manga nightmare, the VUX are powerfully xenophobic and rather dislike humans in particular.

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All of them hate humans except for one: Admiral ZEX. I keep writing “SEX” and boy does that change the tone of this whole post. Anyway, ZEX enjoys humans for our anatomy, mostly because he’s a collector of interesting aliens that he keeps on his own personal zoo planet. He’s got some Shofixti down there, but he’s not going to give them up unless I can find him a specimen even better.

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It takes a goodly amount of traveling and effort, but finally I track down the vile beast, pummel it into submission, and engage in the questionable practice of space slavery. All to help some rabbits reproduce.

World of Warcraft: Coming to peace with the new BM Hunter

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When World of Warcraft dropped all of the class changes with 7.0, it was both a heady time — and an era of dealbreakers. Literally overnight, my Shaman became an unplayable mess, my Demo Warlock a bizarre challenge, and my Beast Master Hunter a disappointment. All of this funneled me into playing a Death Knight for most of the expansion so far.

But I can’t quite abandon or stay away from my Hunter. Sure, I know that everyone plays one and has since time immemorial, but there’s so much of what I look for in a class right here: pets, pew-pew from range, rifles, leather gear, and a relaxing rotation. I’ve always enjoyed playing a Hunter going all of the way back to 2004’s launch (dang, has it been THAT long?), and I spent a lot of time prepping mine during Draenor for the new expansion.

Unfortunately, there’s the big issues with the new BM that makes it a hard row to hoe. Marksman, golden child as it may be right now, is definitely not my playstyle (plus, no rifles!), and the new melee-only Survival Hunter has to be one of the dumbest and most unpopular design decisions to come out of Blizzard… this year, at least. So for me it’s either BM or go away. I went away, for months now, but I always felt bad that my Wrath-era Hunter was still hanging out on the character select screen.

What irked me about 7.0 is that BM was in such a good place in Draenor. I loved the feel and rotation, the talents and the skills. Then everything got shuffled around, and while on paper it looks like we still have most of what we had before, there’s something slightly broken now. Before there was a good balance between your own weapon skills and skills involving pets; now it’s just pets, pets, and more pets with a bare nod to rifle skills. The rotation doesn’t feel good any more, as most of it involves long cooldowns and mindless button-mashing (instead of a tight, clicky rotation that came before). I hated having to choose between A Murder of Crows and Barrage, as I used to have both and life was good.

Inch by inch, I’ve started to make peace with the BM Hunter in Legion. It’s been a very slow go, partially hampered by the fact that I only play this character on occasion. Things started to look up when I decided to make her a Gnome (yay Gnome Hunters) and took advantage of the taming mechanical skill to go off and find a giant robot squirrel to be my new main companion. With my mechanical squirrel pet also running behind me, I feel like I’m paying homage to Squirrel Girl in a big way.

I went with Barrage, even though it’s a sloppy and somewhat derided skill, because I simply needed to have another rifle skill on my toolbar. And I’ve been forcing myself to play through a handful of quests at a time, getting a feel for this new build — unlearning the old rotation and adapting to the new. I try to look for the positives, such as how nice it is to have a tank pet again (my DK pets are not tanks in the least) or how barrage and stampede can do some serious AoE damage to packs of mobs.

I transmoged that ugly artifact rifle into one of my favorite models, something that looks big and colorful and steampunky and totally gnome-like. And off to the races we go, seeing if this new “class fantasy” can eventually win me over — or at least convince me that there’s a comfortable point of acceptance.