Posts Tagged ‘virtual’

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Let’s move along now, shall we?

June 10, 2010

Over the past few years, how many AAA MMO titles have we seen get hyped up, release, and shed 50%+ of its population within the first few months? 3? 5? I’m sure there is more to come as well.

I think first it started off as everyone trying to tackle Blizzard, or at least get a chunk of their cake. Games like LotRO, and WAR that were marketed by the eagerly waiting players as “the next WoW killer.”

After that I think companies started backing down to the almighty Blizzard, and decided to not shoot for 10 million subscriptions and would be happy to settle with 1 million. But even that didn’t seem to help, with games like Aion, Champions Online, and Star Trek Online.. all of which have pretty much bombed almost into the “life support” category. (In Aion’s case.. in the US/EU)

So what does a company who wants to design a AAA MMO title have to do to have a successful launch and retain it’s players after the initial flood?

There is a few things I can think of. I’m not too familiar with the development process on the inside of a studio, things like Publisher pressure and deadlines can really screw up an MMO. But that’s about all I really know about what goes on internally. To possibly gain a bit more insight I’ve emailed Brian “Psychochild” Green, online game designer and blogger and asked him to chime in on this post if he has anything to add.

Back to what I think Dev studios could do in order to make the Dev process, testing, launch and post-launch go smoother.

Shrink it!

Most AAA MMO titles feature a large world. Multiple continents, large zones and etcetera. But why does it have to start out large? Maybe the bigger companies can learn a lesson from the indie F2P developers and make your world smaller at first, but have speedy development rotations on adding new content. We all want a bigger world sure, but.. would you rather have a huge world with all sorts of problems in it, or a smaller world with drastically less problems, evolving into a bigger world with time. Vanguard is a great example of what not to do here. The world was beautiful, and enormous. And empty. Not just void of players, but even the wilderness didn’t feel very wild.

Along with shrinking your world, I never quite understood why these MMO’s ship with 15+ servers. Big worlds and tons of servers are great if you’re Blizzard. But not if you’re anybody else. The dreaded server merge announcements that we see doesn’t mean that the game is dying exactly, but anytime one is announced the doomsayers come out of their holes. Usually server merging is a sign of a slowly dying MMO, or at least one that isn’t going to be picking up steam.

So, how about trying something different for once. Start with the minimum amount of servers, and if your game grows, add more. The problem with that idea is usually launch is when you have the highest populations, thus needing the extra servers. My take on server merging is that it’s better done sooner rather than later. If you launch your game and see 500k subs the first month, but at the 3rd month mark you’re down to 400k, it might be time to start thinking about server merging. There is nothing worse than the post-launch exodus that is bound to happen, and then feeling like your left with an empty server. That’s just going to push more players away.

As your game gets older I think watching your servers is important, and knowing when to time server merges before the problem gets too bad. Take EQ2 for example. It does have a healthy population, though the majority of the community are at the top end of the game. EQ2 has had 2 rounds(or maybe just 1, I can’t recall) of server merges in the past, and in this guys opinion.. is well overdue for another. I’d go as far as to say EQ2 needs to drop down to about 8 servers total. 3 normal servers, 1 bazaar server, 1 pvp server, 2 EU servers (I don’t know what the EU population of EQ2 is like), and a RP server. If you’re starting fresh in EQ2 with no friends, it is a very, very silent and quiet game. Very lonely. Not good if you’re trying to attract new customers.

But if EVE online can have 1 server with its healthy subscriber base, why can’t other games? Yeah.. EVE is a special case because it fills a specific niche, but it’s still something to be thought about.

Target Audience?

I think it may be safe to say now that trying to market your MMO to every player type doesn’t work that well. Blizzard was able to pull it off I think because of their timing. Every MMO to come out since that’s tried this has not reached the goals they originally set for themselves and their game. I think if you build your game towards a certain niche of players and stay there, maybe adding on other features later on, you would end up with a smaller population, but a much more stable one. EVE Online does this pretty well as do a few other niche titles.

Are you trying to attract new-to-the-genre players? Harcores? Casuals? PvP, PvE? Social aspects?

Scale?

I never understood why the bigger MMO companies are drawn to making a game capable of supporting millions of people, only to have it flop after release for x reason. Instead of doing that why not set a lower target for your populations. How about 500k instead of 1 million?

I would think that once you set a goal for your customer base, it would make it must easier to design the rest of the game’s size, how many servers you’ll need, and what features you can or can’t use. Also, it would give your publisher a better idea. (Or maybe the publisher is the one who dictates what the target customer pool size will be *shrug*)

Deadlines

Now.. I’m fairly certain that deadlines are set by whoever is funding the project, which is usually the publisher. If publishers used their heads a little bit, and gave the Developer the time that they actually need, we would probably see less MMO’s fall into the sub-200k club.

Then you have the option of “self-publishing.” Which is what Cryptic studio’s original intent was. Looking back over the course of the development of Champions Online, things seemed to be going very well until Atari showed up. You would also have to have the money to back yourself. Not an easy thing to come up with hehe.

What’s worse is when something like that happens, it’s usually the Dev house that gets all the negative press, not so much the publisher. When I first played Champions Online, I was sorely disappointed. Nay. I was pissed. At Cryptic. Even though I knew the game shipped the way it did because Atari shoved it out their doors. Ok.. I don’t know that for a fact, but that’s what the speculation is.

The same thing happened to Vanguard. All was going well (so we think) up until Sony was announced to be the new publisher. Which was right around open beta if I remember right. Then all of a sudden, the game was on store shelves. Oh the cries of the fanboi’s (myself included)

What else could a AAA MMO company could do for itself to ensure the game’s success? Aside from the obvious answer of “make a good game”

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Oh god what is he suggesting (Pt. 2)

June 4, 2010

So yesterday I talked about “my” PvE Arena idea and stopped myself before I rambled on too much. I try to keep to specifics and not “overflow” my writings, but.. I’m not a writer. So, deal with it! Just kidding, I’d like to keep whatever readers I can get, so I will try to make my writing more sensible. It’s not something that’s going to come over night though ; ) On to the good stuff!..

We’ve already gone over the basic outline on the PvE Arena. Let’s dive into some specifics and analyze. First off, and I’m sure what most would be concerned about is how would this effect the game as a whole? The answer.. very little. Even less than PvP Arenas have. There would be no gear rewards, nothing that you could use in normal PvE combat, and nothing that would give you any sort of advantage over the current PvE content. Everything attained by the “PvE Arena Currency” is merely for show or use inside of the Arena.

“But you said this would add another form of progression to the game?!”

Yes, I did. By having different modes and difficulties you inherently create progression content. The key is giving the players motivation to progress, and since every players motivation is different, it makes it rather challenging. So, what are the carrots?

– Titles, achievements, pets, mounts, tabards. These are good carrots for some people, and we all know how much Blizzard loves to add new pets and mounts to the game. It’s not enough for some though, what else?

– Rankings! Just like PvP Arena. Of course here it’s nothing more than an epeen booster. But.. some people love any way they can inflate their epeen.

– New/Different abilities. For use in PvE arena only. I could type out 3 paragraphs explaining what I mean by this, or I could just say two words. Limit break. How neat would it be if your had (for example) an ability on a 3 min CD AND minimum damage taken cooldown (ooooh something new??) More on this towards the end.

– The last carrot I can think of at the moment (aside from crazy fun!) is possibly once you attain the higher(est?) ranks of Gladitory combat your promoter will offer you an Epic questline (oooh?) This epic questline has nothing to do with Raiding, though it does go outside of the PvE arena. Mostly a Solo-5 Man quest, but not easy. Very long and will take a while to complete. Rewards a special title and possibly a Legendary, yes, even for use outside of the PvE Arena. (Can’t make it TOO special though or the Hardcore raiders would have a mental breakdown)

Ok.. enough carrots. Next.

Spectator mode! Yeah, that’s something new new (I think). If you’re heading into the PvE Arenas to show off your skills, you can invite your pals to come sit in the bleachers and watch. Or maybe you’re trying to give the new recruit in the guild tips, instead of just telling him. Let him watch! Or, take them in as a Duo and teach! This spectator-ship would be by invite only, and have a limit of 10 players (lets not try to kill Blizzards instance servers) Spectators would be able to talk, so they can cheer you on, give you tips.. or just be general asses hehe.

“Okay.. and what about all the classes? Rogues can’t tank a boss for long, and what would a Healer do if he went in solo? You did say this was supposed to be for everyone”

This is where things get a bit harder. Without changing all the class mechanics completely for PvE Arena (which Blizzard already stated they wouldn’t do for PvE/PvP, so they wouldn’t do it for this either)

With the randomness of the encounters there is no way to ensure that class a doesn’t have any advantage over class b. Some classes rely on gear to do their jobs more than others. While some simply just don’t have the ability to solo as well as others. We don’t want to give an advantage to the Rogues over the Priests.. as prestige and prizes are the carrots. If all the Rogues were able to do it faster and better than the Priests.. watch out Blizzard forums!

There are two ways I can think of that could work around this. A) Have the solo “bracket” divided up amongst the 3 archetypes. Basically.. an Arena for tanks, one for Healers, and one for DPS. Remove some encounters from the “random” list that a particular archetype just wont be able to defeat. There are two problems with this option though. It’s alot of work for Blizzard to do that, and.. as we can imagine the DPS “bracket” would probably be the most interesting.

The second idea B) design the “limit breaks” around the classes weaknesses. Let’s get an example for each archetype.

– Tanks : You could have limit breaks on shorter CDs, but with higher “Incoming damage” requirements. Something like this… 1 min CD, requires 20k Damage taken before able to be used. Once used, completely heals the  tank and give him a 20 second “Super-heroism” like buff. +haste, +damage, +defensive skills. At the end of the 20 seconds of “Super-heroism” the tank leaps high into the air and crashes down into the dirt of the Arena creating a shockwave damaging all enemies in the arena, stunning them for 2 seconds and dazing them for 10 seconds. Okay.. that sounds like one that would be fitting for Warrior tanks. A super flashy-cool version of Thunderstomp.

-Healers : This is a harder one to deal with because the damage output is lower than even the tanks, for most healers. But, even still, with some creativeness you can come up with a way for this to work. One thing about Healers is they can stay up for quite a while. So let’s play to that strength. For this “Limit break” we’ll go with 30s cooldown, requires 10k damage healed and 30k damage taken. When activated the Priest levitates off of the ground, and gains a “super shield” around them (make it look cool). 10 second duration, all damage the Priest absorbs while levitating is stored and released after the super bubble duration is complete. Also, upon explosion of holy-sauce has a 50% chance to make a random mob of the encounter a combat pet for the duration of the encounter or until it dies. Only 1 “pet” can be controlled at a time. If there is only 1 mob you will not get a pet, but the mob will get a 200% attack speed debuff for 15 seconds. If there is 2 mobs, they will gain debuff “Holy Confusion”, and square off against each other for 10 seconds.

– DPS : Since DPS classes obviously have the damage and killing speed advantage, the abilities given to them must be weighed properly as well. For this, lets use a Mage as an example. 3 min CD, requires 20k damage done, a minimum of 1k damage taken and maximum of 10k damage taken (meaning once you take more than 10k damage the ability is rendered not-useable) Upon use of this ability the Mage gains “Mana form”, Damage taken decreased by 70%,  movement speed slowed by 30%, and allows the Mage to take flight. This lasts for 5 seconds. During this time the Mage can “queue” up to 12 spells. Maximum – 4 Fire spells, 4 Frost spells, and 4 Arcane spells. Can queue spells while on the move. No GCD. When the 5 seconds is up the Mage releases all 12 spells at once, mana and cast time free. After the Mage uses this ‘limit break’ he is in a weakened state for 10 seconds. Suffers a 10% damage debuff, but gains a 80% Dodge rating.

Whew.. looks like this is gonna be a three-parter. Remember, these are just rough examples I came up with off the top of my head.. I’m sure REAL game designers could come up with much better things.

So for tomorrow’s post I will give you a rundown on how a standard PvE Arena run would work.

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zomg it really is a Citadel!

May 27, 2010

As I ventured into ICC25 for the first time last night I was quite nervous. I hadn’t had time to read up on any strategies or watch any videos, much less talk to my guildies about the fights. I logged on, got the raid invite, and in we went.

Let me backtrack. I left Age of Conan the other day, not because of a sour experience though. A good portion of the reasons I play MMO’s over other video games is the multiplayer experience. The social mechanics. I was simply levelling by myself in AoC. A problem all games suffer at some point. The mid-game gets deserted, and any new players, or alt levellers have to fend for themselves most of the time.

So, I came back to WoW and am now starting on my Pre-Cata checklist. I logged back in to my old guild, my friends. Lots of new faces as well, always good. We still struggle with numbers though.

So, back to the subject. First time stepping into ICC. Now I realize that they just increased the Strength of Wrynn buff to 20%. So, things are not as hard as they once were. Or are they?

My guild has been running ICC since it came out. Not every week, but close to it.  Due to numbers always. We’re only 8/12 in Normal ICC25. I’m not sure how that exactly fares up against other guilds, as I really don’t care about the speed, so much as making some type of progress every week.

We raided 3 hours last night. Killed 3 bosses (they had raided on Tuesday as well). Didn’t do too bad. Not many wipes, until Putricide. Now, I heard he was a pain in the rear while I wasn’t playing. But honestly.. he’s not hard. The funny thing is.. none of the fights were. Out of everything I experienced in ICC so far, it’s all super-duper easy.

It really made me see how mindlessly easy raiding in WoW is. Walking in without so much as a hint, and not making mistakes. Whereas other players in my guild who have done the fights before, are still making mistakes. I did feel shame in my ToC gear though.

The really interesting thing though is even after a break, you can tell.. WoW never changes. ICC is cool to me now, because it’s the first time I’ve been inside. Next week, the feelings wont be the same for the bosses that I have killed. Most of the fights seem like they are borrowed mechanics from other Raids in WotLK. Which really is disheartening and flat out lazy. The zone itself is beautiful though, when Blizzard does new content they really know how to get the “feeling” right. Ulduar and ICC both are just amazing dungeons artistically.

Back on topic. The key to my personal success last night was DBM and my knowledge of all the other content in this expansion. Stay out of the fire, black shit, green shit.. check! Watch my ass… check! Watch out for stray adds trying to eat our ranged.. check! DPS my ass off.. check!

When DBM told me to run, I ran. When DBM gave me any kind of message I knew how to react, or at least had an idea of how to react and not get myself or anyone else killed. It really bothered me that 5-10 of us were doing extremely well, and the other 15 weren’t. It’s a common thing among 25 man guilds who are not at the top of their server. It really baffled me how people can fail when you have such simple tools at your disposal. I play a Ret Pally, so it’s just a bunch of face-smashing the keyboard = DPS. I can’t imagine anything being much harder for the other classes or positions. Healers have it tough on some fights, but other DPS? My alt-raider is a Feral Druid (Cat), arguably one of the hardest DPS rotations in the game and I can still “do the dance” while maintaining my DPS.

Now I’m not gloating, I want to help my guildies. As I ease back into the game I will be devoting time to help the “slacking” players. If I have more skill than them, so what.. it’s not going to get us anywhere unless we work as a team right?

This is why I am very pleased with the changes to raiding in Cata. I’m sick of faceplanting on 25 man raids because some people can’t pick up the slack. I’m sick of always waiting for those 2-5 people that are always late. I cannot wait to experience the game progressing purely in 10 man content. With a tight-knit team of skilled people, and hopefully eventually close friends as well.

Large scale raids. As much as I love them, just have no place anymore in WoW. I love my guild. Been a part of it for nearly 3 years. I will be leaving it before Cataclysm and I will request that my 12 “best WoW friends” come along. In bigtime hopes that they do. Yes, we’d be leaving the other 20 people kinda hanging and that is a bit rude. So if my friends don’t want to come with me, then I will /salute and be on my merry way. 25m raiding is not for this Dwarf anymore.

Bring on the Cataclysm!

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Ca$h Stores and Item Shops

May 26, 2010

Whether it be a Sparkle Pony, Shadow Cat-thing, or something as simple as an hour duration XP potion. Cash shops are starting to enter the “mainstream” MMO market. They are adopting practices that F2P and Indie companies have used for quite some years now. There has been countless arguments, both for and against the cash shop model. For those of you that don’t know there are 4 types of ways that players pay to play games.

F2P

F2P, or Free to Play games are completely free and don’t limit content at all. Most of these are Indie games that may or may not be in the “Released” stages.

F2P + Cash Shop

This is F2P, but not completely. Sometimes they will lock out content until you decide to buy it in the Cash shop. You can also typically buy items (of varying power), recipes, potions, mounts, furniture, costume pieces.. you name it.

Subscription

What most of us here in the States are used to. We pay our $xx.xx/mo, box fees, and expansion fees. With this we expect Content patches in between expansions, and a new expansion every, we’ll say, 1-2 years.

Sub + Cash Store

We are starting to see these pop up now. We pay our subs, box fees, expansion fees.. and for extra you have the option of buying things in the cash store. To my knowledge all of the main developers (Funcom, SOE, Blizzard, Turbine) have all adopted some for of this.

Now, I don’t mind cash shops to a point. Once they start offering players an advantage over other “non-cash shop” players, it becomes a problem. Also, being able to purchase content (ala EQ2 Adventure packs) is just gouging your customers. That stuff should be availiable via free content patches. Hell even F2P games do that.

Being so used to the subscription model, I am a little biased towards F2P. Most of them are cutsey little cartoon games,.. whatever. Not my thing. But I have, in the recent past, played a few F2P games. It hasn’t really changed my opinion of them, but it has made me see that the F2P market shouldn’t be boycotted.

Options are a great thing to have in your games. For example, lets talk Blizzard for a second. The pony, the pets, the mobile AH. None of these give players any real advantage over other players. But are still there for the people who would fork out the cash for them. So I don’t see what the issue is. At all.

Now look at Funcom. They offer to you a “Might of Crom” pack for 49.99 (Don’t quote me, we have dinosaur Internet Explorer here at work and I can’t get to the AOC website.) Anyways, it’s something like 49.99, gets you:

  • A bunch of XP potions
  • Weapon/Armor
  • Pet
  • Ring (plus xp I think)
  • One month game time

There may be more, but I think I covered the majority of it. Anyways. I think it’s a good thing to release things like this AFTER the initial release. Once most of the playerbase has hit the top levels. So what if someone wants to pay to have there alt level faster. Or someones friend who’s brand new joins the game and wants to play catch up. Does it hurt your gaming experience? Not really. For the people who want to pay the price of an expansion, let ’em.

Beau Hindman at Massively.com writes in an article today:

Third, subscription-only can punish innovation. If you look at the indie/free-to-play market, you will find true innovation. Pricing can bend and mold itself to the market, and players can truly send strong messages to developers by avoiding certain cash shop items. Instead of charging one price for a box of content that will be used differently by everyone, free-to-play expansions are almost always free and profits are made instead by players who can buy smaller bits of content as they see fit.

Obviously he is an advocate of F2P and Cash Shop models. But this statement right here is pretty much spot-on. If a developer utilizes a cash store, they can look at the data, and pretty much get feedback from it instantly.

But if we are going to play a game thats Sub+Box+Exp+Cash Shop items.. that’s an easy and quick way to go through alot of money. If this is how the big companies are going to do it, they need to re-evaluate a few things first.

My personal budget for MMOs is $50/month. Not including box fees. So that means I can run 1-4 accounts in multiple games or not, or purchase some things from the cash store. I know some people who would look at my monthly MMO budget and scream. “$50/month to play some games?? I have a hard time accepting that I have to pay $14.99” So something has to change. Cheaper sub rates, free expansions.. something. Then again, Blizzard proved that wrong with the sparkle pony because it was a hit.

But.. what is the outcome of all this? Players get shiny toys and pets and whatnot. Developers get more money. But honestly, it can’t be that hard to make a “XP Potion of awesomeness” or re-texture an already in the game mount, or shrinking a mob to make it a pet. So it’s not like the Dev team spends a bunch of work hours on this stuff. Basically, it’s all profit for the company. The player gets the shaft.

I wont start becoming a full supporter of Sub+Cash Store until we start seeing some changes with all the extra money the Company is getting from these toys. I want faster time between expansions (EQ2 has it right on, once a year), I want more of pretty much everything. But what I want the most of these companies, nay, what I expect (even now) is options. Everyone has a different playstyle. If someone hates levelling.. why shouldn’t they be allowed to have a XP potion if they wanna shell out the cash for it? Cause they level faster than you? Boo-hoo. If someone is tired of looking at their Swift Gray Ram, they can cough out the cash and buy something sparkly.

Put gold on the cash store too I say. Kill RMT. Developer houses could control MUDflation more. I would also say throw levels/characters into the cash store as well.. but that is stretching it. Nobody likes a max level complete noob.

You could very well even tailor “special” content to put on the cash store. Nothing that gives anyone advantages/disadvantages. But for playstyles. WoW could sell a housing patch for $30 and I bet you make a killing. Seeing as how Blizzard just wont give it to us. How about a collector’s pack? Adding new achievements into the game, Hide ‘n Seek mini-games, Scavenger hunt type stuff. Things that really can’t take THAT much resources to create. Throw it up on the store for a price that reflects the content, and let the niche players buy it up.

Nothing that changes the game. Just the way the game is played to that person. Personal options. Something I am not against in MMO’s.

 

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Addons, whats TOO far?

May 20, 2010

Yeah, this has been debated for quite some time. Blizzard is putting their giant foot down on a little addon called “Augmented Virtual Reality”, and though I’ve never used it. From the description of the addon, Blizzard is right in doing so.

But where does Blizzard draw the line? I understand why addons like AVR can’t be allowed. It trivializes much of the game, and then the devs have to work around the fact that the players can use these tools which makes it even harder to design an encounter.

When it comes to addons I am a UI freak. Everything has to be neat, perfect, and logical. It comes to a surprise to most people who know me that I actually don’t like Addons. Ok, I don’t like “functional” addons. Changing the GUI is fine by me as it doesn’t affect any part of the game. But functional mods like DBM, PowerAuras, and even Questhelper (or tourguide, whatever you kids use these days)

(vet rambling incoming)

I remember back in the days when we had to rely on Egg timers to monitor DoTs or breathes. There was nothing to tell you not to stand in fire, or thatadds spawn in 5 seconds. With every wipe you gained a little more knowledge. The same can be said nowadays with mods like DBM, because I still see people failing even with tools to make it *nearly* impossible to screw up.

Even with outside of the game assistance like Ventrilo people still can’t grasp simple instructions.

Just a quick rant since I was reading wow.com and saw that. Enjoy your Thursdays!