Wednesday, December 22

Rift Beta Thoughts


The NDA has been lifted so for what it's worth here's my impression on the first two beta events.

The game is faction V Faction, the two factions being Defiant and Guardian. Both have separate starter areas. The beta events covered levels 1-20, the first weekend was Defiant side and the second weekend Guardians.

The server set up allowed for choices of PvP, PvE, PVE RP and PvP RP. Always good to see RP servers among the list :)

You have to bear in mind that due to the level restrictions the areas where incredibly busy, for the first weekend this meant that the Rifts and Invasions became quick zerg fests, the second weekend however saw the introduction of a scaling mechanic which saw the rifts last longer and one massive invasion intent on taking over a whole zone. Sadly I didn't play enough (real life and the SW:TOR beta getting in the way) to test out the instances, next week should allow me to rectify that.

Character creation was ok but ended up with everyone looking like they are members of the same family, you're given a basic face with a few different 'features' and a slider within a triangle to set the shape of the face, several hair styles, the usual colour options and how tall your character is, it's basic and left me without a character I really felt I had invested in. There are three races to choose from, I have never been fond of dwarves and the elf like creatures had pointy ears you couldn't disguise and make small enough so I only rolled the human types.

I hated the Defiant starting area with a vengeance, felt incredibly walled in and claustrophobic, thankfully that area only lasted the first 5 or 6 levels, it felt like something in RoM rather than a P2P AAA MMORPG, it was a very disappointing start for me. Thankfully you leave this area into a more expansive zone very quickly. The Guardians had a much better starter area with horizons you could see but had the corniest voice over intro ever, thankfully Trion listened and changed that one, Trion are very, very good at listening.

The lore was mostly lost on me, I was killing stuff and sabotaging machinery with little motivation beyond the fact I'd been told to. Each quest had plenty of text and always with the option of 'tell me more' from the quest giver but after reading the first few I wasn't held and quickly reverted to just clicking through to start the quests and ignored the text (bad beta tester! *slaps self on wrists *). The game has a very good quest tracking system which means there was another reason not to read any quests beyond the basics given at the end of each wall of text. There are no voice overs or cutscenes. All in all they haven't done themselves any favours regarding the lore of Telara, you really don't need to get involved. As long as you get the basic gist of why Rifts and Invasions happen that's all that counts and that's all I fear the majority will get.

Quests are nothing that you haven't seen before and progression is very, very linear, no zones felt immense and your funneled through them as you progress, reminded me of the funneling in Aion, there are however collections (think EQ2) which could inspire some to do some exploring although the areas never felt big enough to inspire me to explore. In short questing in Rifts is the same old that we've seen countless times before with maybe the exception that at this stage everything is very polished. There have been lots of references to War and WoW in the beta community and I guess they hold true. The quests do their job of funnelling you through the content in a conformist way, fine for those wanting something similar to what they are used to but boring for those of us looking for something new, questing is certainly not next gen. Quest rewards are as expected, XP, moolah and sometimes loot. You must however bear in mind that you don't have to level via quests, you can level via rifts, invasions and grinding should you so wish, in fact I would recommend getting off the quest train occasionally and heading out for rifts and invasions even if you are enjoying the quests.

The graphics in the game are good but not impressive, somehow the art direction missed in creating something unique and immersive, I felt decidedly meh about the graphics. The dev team did do an amazing job on optimisation between beta events, the first weekend I had to tone things down to get decent FPS but the second weekend let me run things much higher with a much better FPS. The animations are let down in a few areas but most of the time I didn't notice them so neither brilliant nor appalling from where I was sitting, I'm sure a few will be improved on come release. The major cities for both factions where very dissapointing, way too small and devoid of any real feeling of a bustling town.

There are a few traps that Rift falls in to in so far as bad MMO mechanics go, spawn and boss camping was rampant, I hate having to hang around and try and beat other players to tag a mob to kill, thankfully the beta community was pretty friendly so groups would form on an ad hoc basis when it was obvious we were all spawn camping. Tagging is supposed to be first hit gets the kill, you have to remember not to use timed DOTs if there are other players around, if they get some DPS in before your DOT ticks they get the kill.

Crafting *deep sigh* is really boring, gather the mats, maybe add something you got from a rift to add better stats and watch the progress bar, there was no 'crit' mechanic so it was very much what you see is what you get. The quality of gear was OK but it didn't look like you could create anything better (or as good as) world drops and quest rewards at the early levels, it might improve at later levels but provided no incentive for me to level it up in order to find out. Very disappointing if you're a crafter looking for a worthwhile experience.

The 'meat and veg' of the game is nothing you can't find in most MMO's, it works and felt polished but offers nothing new. Time to move on to what Trion thinks makes this game next gen:

The Soul System
I'm going to start this one by saying that Trion have just announced that access to more souls and points to allocate in those soul trees will be available from the start of the next beta, another point raised by many testers was that there was no scope to feel like it was anything more than a fancy talent tree that can be found in games like WoW, come the next tests we should have the ability to play more with the system and see how useful it is in creating something unique for your character. The soul system allows you to have three soul trees for your build (you can also buy extra build slots so you can switch soul trees during combat). Characters choose their first soul from a choice of three very early on, my Ele went with Warlock which gave me a life leaching DOT, a skeleton minion and a basic DPS attack skill. The thing I didn't like was that all skills are on a global cooldown but they shortened that for the 2nd beta and added the ability to queue your next attack, again based on player feedback. The soul trees work by allocating points in to the top tier to boost or add skills, adding points in the top tier also sometimes unlocked new skills on the bottom tier. Skills are mostly unlocked by buying them from your class trainer at appropriate level gaps. I unlocked my next soul quite early on and went with Necromancer, the problem was with a limited level cap and a shortage of points to allocate it seemed pointless to spread those points across trees, see my initial comment about the devs plans to combat that. It looks like an interesting system I think each archetype has the potential to unlock 18 souls, that's a lot of combinations and screams balance nightmare at me. My initial impression left me feeling that it added no real depth at this point BUT further betas with more points and souls to play with will give me a better idea of how the system truly plays out, it certainly has potential.


Rifts
As mentioned the initial experience was one of a player zerg fest, over incredibly quickly and you would be lucky to get any kills in, later as you ventured away from crowded areas and scaling was added and the difficulty was increased they became more fun, again nice to see players randomly grouping when these happened. Rifts and invasions are on your map, if you want to get involved you could keep referencing your map and keep an eye on your compass. The idea is that left unchecked they expand and take over the zone, including quest hubs but most I saw where over pretty quickly. Each rift has different stages to complete in order to successfully close it and stem the invasion, by taking part you are rewarded although as a healer your less likely to get rewards, Trion are looking at this and will improve the healers lot. Rewards from rifts are items that can be traded for weapons/armour aswell as other loot, xp, crafting mats and money. I seemed to miss out on the best rift experiences, poor timing on my part but the common feedback is that they are very similar to Wars public quests. Not as dynamic as what Anet are proposing with GW2 but still dynamic enough to make the world that bit more exciting. Rifts cause the landscape to change according to the rifts element, it was nice to see although a little rough at the edges, some smoothing between the rifts edge and the normal landscape would be nice, nothing game breaking purely aesthetic. The interesting thing about rifts is that all factions are against each other so having rifts of differing elements close by would cause in fighting between them and for PvP allow some fun if they spawn in enemy territory.

Invasions
While gathering mats in a quiet part of the map I noticed a dark area moving in my direction, as it got closer it was obvious the landscape was changing around the moving mass and it was populated by some mean looking mobs, I'd stumbled in to the path of an invasion (again visible on your map and shows the direction the invasion is moving). Being solo and a little apprehensive I moved slightly off its path and waited to see how much of a threat it was, luckily for me this was a small invasion force of one boss and three mobs, feeling cocky my minion and I charged in, it got hairy at times but we succeeded thanks to the help of a few passers by, it was a nice feeling watching that dark path dissipate and the normal landscape return. Unfortunately I missed the massive zone invasion but I'm sure on that scale it would be great fun.


In conclusion I think the games most innovative features couldn't be gauged enough in these two beta events to see how innovative they really are and it does suffer from employing what some of us feel are stale mechanics which will tarnish a lot of peoples current views.

If you pinned me down and ask me if I would sub at this stage I would say no but I like the way Trion is reacting to players and I want them to succeed, I'll be keeping a close eye on this one and hoping it reaches a potential that is obviously there.

Wednesday, December 15

Blizzard Promote Bad Hygiene

Glider, in short, hides itself from the Warden software that scans the machines of Warcraft’s 10 million players for bots, thus allowing Glider license holders to play Warcraft while taking a shower in violation of Warcraft’s terms of service that prohibit bot use.


I mean, come on! People gotta take a shower some time!

But seriously, botting is bad. Don't do it. If you're so addicted to a game that you have to play it even when you can't play it, perhaps you ought not be playing at all? It's like those internet urinals. I always thought it a bit of a joke. I hope no one actually uses those.

Anyway, I found the shower bit a tad humorous and thought I'd share. Feel free to commence with the discussion on the morality, or lack thereof of botting...

full disclosure: this post is meant mostly tongue in cheek. the author in no way supports breaking the tos of a game, unless you can retire at a beachhouse in cancun from doing so... ;)

Wednesday, November 24

Friday, November 12

What Social Search site should you use?

Speaking of fun, here's something I found slightly humorous...



And in other news, FI is mildly impressed by Wolfram|Alpha...
http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=what+is+the+airspeed+velocity+of+a+swallow

Sunday, November 7

Where are our visitors?


While browsing around on collectedcurios.com (I love all his comics & art) I saw he had a nifty little map at the bottom. So I wanted to see how that would work for us. And we got our first visitor! That is me, of course. Not sure I should add it to the side bar. I might be a rather empty map *grin*

Wednesday, November 3

Look what has risen from the death!


I received an email today from these guys. I can't discuss what was in that email. But I can say it contained a handy link for my friends to sign up for closed beta.

I don't know if you can all remember the story of Gods & Heroes. It was originally being developed by Perpetual Entertainment. That is the same company that were doing Star Trek Online. But it went all bongers. Lay offs, more lay offs, selling of IP, law suits, and finally the end. The website of Gods&Heroes was one of the coolest and well made websites I had seen of any game at the time. I have spend days and days filling the G&H GameAmp site with all the content they provided (not sure why since nobody ever visited that site). If only the rest of the company was as competent as the guys that made that website.

Although I never thought the concept of the game was all that brilliant, I had a weak spot for it. So I am happy it may see the light after all. But not happy enough yet to actually download and try it. That is more up Geekzor's alley.

Thursday, October 28

Online Communities



I found this on a webcomic called xkcd. If you click on the picture you get a very large detailed view. It is quite fun to explore. And completely out of date two months from now. Not even two months from now. It is already out of date. Still fun.

The author had made a 2007 version as well here.

Tuesday, October 26

Champions Online, Free to Play

This email was sitting in my inbox today...

Greetings, Champion!

We’ve got some big news we wanted to share with you right away.

Beginning Q1 2011, Champions Online will offer a free-to-play gameplay option. Everyone can download, play and enjoy Champions Online at absolutely no cost!

All you’ll need to do is download the game and begin playing. It will be a great opportunity to head back to the Champions universe to see what’s changed, spend time with your friends and enjoy a top-tier MMO without spending a dime.

We’re sure you have a lot of questions. That’s good! We’re looking forward to working with you to answer them. Right now, we’ve set up a new short FAQ and a special Q&A forum to begin answering your more in-depth questions.



We plan on entering our free-to-play beta on November 9, and to launch the new, free-to-play version of Champions Online in the first quarter of 2011. We can’t wait to grow the game with you, and we hope you’re as excited as we are!

As always, thanks for your continued support. We’ll see you in Millennium City!

-The Champions Online Team


I'm sure their free-to-play plans include some kind of cash shop of purchasable items, etc etc... That seems to be the trend these days.

Thursday, October 21

Screenshot Wednesday

I've started a Picasa album of my screenshots as well, and wanted to share them. So here ya go. The Runes of Magic ones I've posted before are already there. The others are from a game I started yesterday called Vindictus. It's kind of interesting.

Enjoy...

Saturday, October 16

Screenshot Shaturday

Just some quick screenies I've taken throughout Naomi's rise through the Sunspear Ranks to her current rank of General:



Friday, October 15

The Truth

... well, according to one disgruntled soon ex-employee of EA at least:
And Bioware? Don’t make me laugh. They’ve spent more money making the Old Republic than James Cameron spent on Avatar. Shit you not. More than $ 300 million! Can you believe that?

And you know what they’re most proud of? This is the kicker. They are most proud of the sound. No seriously. Something like a 20Gig installation, and most of it is voiceover work. That’s the best they have. The rest of the game is a joke. EA knows it and so does George Lucas,they’re panicking , and so most of Mythic has already been cannibalized to work in Austin on it because they can’t keep pushing back launch.

Old Republic will be one of the greatest failures in the history of MMOs from EA. Probably at the level of the Sims Online. We all know it too ... ...
The whole blogosphere is over this of course. I don't know what the truth is, but I am seriously worried about SW:TOR. Maybe it will become a nice RPG, but I have very little hope it will be the next big MMO.

Friday, October 8

A bit behind the times

Five and a half years after the original release I finally got moving in Tyria. And I am having fun! Especially since I got to meet Geeky again. Hopefully soon I will tell you about my adventures. But for now just a greeting from a snowy hill. Oh, and Gwen is saying hi too.

Friday, October 1

GW2 gets a new Event system (Rift: Planes of Telera)

To follow on from and in a similar style to GW gets a new skin post :)



And nothing GW related but here's a look at the soul system

Guild Wars gets a new UI skin




Oh no wait, it's TERA's *Archer* in stead, never mind the near identical hair and dress.
And please don't mistake this scantily clad Sorceress for a scantily clad mesmer:



Absolutely different...

Wonder if either of them can do lapdances like the female Elementalists of Guild Wars?

Wednesday, September 29

Steam is great when offline

The past ten days I have been offline. And I will remain offline till at least next week Wednesday. So what am I supposed to do at home? The internet has really become one of life's necessities.

But in stead of going outside (*schudder*) or playing a boardgame (huh? what?) I discovered I have actually a whole list of nifty video games I have never even tried. All of them were bargain downloads from Steam. But when the internet is up and running I never found the time to try them out.

Where the rest of the world is locking themselves up with Civ V I managed to finally start up Civ IV. For a 2005 game I thought the UI looked rather outdated. But the zoom features, and animated troops managed to pull in anyway. I managed to expand my empire to several cities, and then wondered what I was doing it for. So time for something else.

Zeno Clash was next. That is a fun game. The art style is quite different. The characters are ... weird. The whole story is kind of weird. Apparently I killed my father-mother and the rest of my family is chasing after me. It has a very rewarding first person melee combat system. I am taking great pleasure in sucker punching the weirdest characters.



But I am of course rather pathetic at it. My twitch skills serious lack smoothness. And my keyboard-mouse-eye coordination can use some training. I have managed to make it to the first boss where I am sort of stuck. But I will persevere!

In the meantime I have started firefox several time. And it still says I can't connect to the internet. It really feels like I have an addiction. I can't even enjoy an offline game anymore.

Tuesday, September 28

Monday, September 27

Bounding Bear in Bree

My pet John, the bounding bear in question.


First off a bit of history with this game- I think it was Lani that managed to get me in to the early closed beta., I felt it had promise then but didn't hook me. I spotted the game + Mines of Moria and an additional 2 month timecard for the bargain price of £15 in total last year, I didn't play the three months and didn't get any character past level 10, for some reason again it just didn't hook me. After the announcement of F2P and a subsequent closed beta, this beta whore obviously wasn't going to stay away. This time though I noticed a change, something hooked me in, the work they carried out on the beginners experience had done its job nicely and I found myself looking forward to release.

I've been playing it solidly for just over two weeks now, the majority of those days have seen solid play sessions of up to 4hrs during the week and more at weekends, I have one character at lvl 20 and my second character (same class, different race so I could join a friend) is coming up nicely. 20 isn't high if your an end game chaser for that amount of time, but I'm not chasing end game.

I've found that LotRO has more to offer me than my previous incursions had me believe, I'm enjoying the quests, enjoying the graphics and feel charmed by the whole feel of the world they created, I don't think any Tolkien purist would be happy (the IP being one of the biggest hurdles for this game), but standing away from the works of Tolkien and standing in the world they created and feeling it for what it is, I am thoroughly charmed by it.

Any game with a half decent crafting system is always going to get my attention, in the scheme of things this isn't too bad. The system offers nothing new but is completely robust in as much as it does what is needed, at the levels I've played crafted gear is better than most drops and quest rewards, more so if you get a 'critical success'. There is nothing complex about the process except that you choose a vocation rather than individual gathering/crafting skills, as a weaponmaster you won't necessarily get prospecting within the same vocation. It makes for dependency on other crafters, or in my case the creation of an alt. I enjoy the process enough that it has provided a significant portion of XP through mob kills and my game plan at the moment is built as much around gathering the next mats, killing that rare beast and creating that awesome robe as it is following the storyline.

I won't say much more about the game because I know you've all probably played enough to get a flavour for it, I'll just talk a little about the monetary side to this 'F2P' transition.

I've played loads of F2P titles, far too many to mention, for that reason I'm looking at how the cash transactions compare to other F2P titles. I'm going to forget about the previous sub only model and any such comparisons. On the surface LotRO compares very favourably, if all you've played is F2P then you are going to be in for a few nice surprises, I'm seriously impressed by how much you get for so little. The things you'll notice immediately is two locked classes, a reduction in inventory space, the inability to sell at the AH and the need to purchase the riding skill (mounts can be bought with in game cash). The two locked classes are no big deal, you still have choices within the classic archetypes of warrior, healer, mage and rogue, the rest of those items are pretty crucial for a full, unencumbered experience of the game, so what's the cost?

I'm playing the Turbine version of the game, Codemasters are dragging their feet with the F2P version. Turbine points are bought within the game, you also earn them via Quests and Deeds (proficiency in a skill, completion of certain objectives or kill counts of certain mobs), no F2P title that I've played has ever let you earn RMT currency, if you're a completionist or not shy of grinding you can earn that mount skill, AH slots and extra bags just by playing. F2P players will be well versed in the grind and shouldn't mind too much if they really don't want to spend money. If you bit the bullet and decide to spend then a nice surprise will be that the bag you just unlocked for this character is also unlocked for all the characters on your account, FTP titles always charge for each character for inventory space. Things like the mount skill and AH sales access are each character. I can't remember the exact cost of items but I spent £20 on 2,500 points, so far I've unlocked one extra bag, got access to selling at the AH and bought the riding skill, I have 1,590 points left, 50-70 probably gained through play. My next purchase will probably be the riding skill for my alt, which will leave around 1,200 (plus what I earn through playing), I can mail stuff to the character with the AH unlocked so no need to worry about that and he already has the account wide unlocked extra bag.

The next costs I'm not so sure about, forums would have you believe that quests dry up at 20, so far I'm not at all short of them and in game chat says other wise. Unlocks of some quest content for lvl 20-40 costs around 400 points and is for the account, at my current point level I can unlock 3 quest packs, two would easily get me to max F2P content at lvl 50, from there I would need to purchase the expansions at roughly £20 each.

At the moment I feel like I'm playing a sub worthy title at less than the cost of a B2P model such as GW, compared to most F2P titles out there that's a bloody good deal.




Sunday, September 26

Playing the number game

fame has put out two interesting articles About 'the numbers game' parts I and II.
In the first article his conclusion is that it's hard to get numbers out because it's hard to collect them and also hard to use the same numbers. But if someone else would only give him an "official" measuring stick, he'd use it.
Hmmm...

The second article is about how subscription numbers are not really indicative of whether a game is successful or not because, you know, there's this return on investment thingy. Actually he gives three reasons, but dwells the longest on the effect we all see. How we all try the new shiny MMO and drop it within one or two months. Real success should be measured by whether the subscriber numbers (which they're unable to figure out) are in the ballpark of what they were aiming for. How you aim for a number that's apparently so hard to determine beats me.

Actually, I don't understand why Craig claims they're so difficult. In the first article he blithely wishes for something along the Nielsen TV ratings for MMO's. Erm... What? Nielsen ratings are at best a wild guesstimate, a clutch for an industry that has no truly meaningful data available. It's like the fuzzy statistics wizardry used for advertisement in magazines and radio.
New Media, like the Interwebz and MMO's being wholly digital are a rather different breed of animal though. So the statement that meaningful numbers are hard to come by appear... odd... at best.

Why would Craig use the least accurate media rating system as an example of the kind of MMO rating system he'd like to get behind? I mean, it's not like there aren't better alternatives available in New Media.

Other branches don't do it, do they?:
Internet advertisement has grown into different breed of animal from paper magazine advertisement because, well because page impressions, views, unique visitors, click-throughs and what not can all be turned into discrete, analysable data. Unlike the fuzzy wuzzy "No idea if people actually see the ads on page 7 anymore or if the stick with the pictures on page 4" paper mag advertisement. TV ratings are more diffuse than those even.
But that's really still to close to 'old media'. MMO's are something different, something new and never seen before. Or are they? What's the business model again? You purchase a "physical" product initially. A viewer, which enables you to make use of a service. For this service you pay a monthly fee. Hmmmm..... I don't think I have far to go from TV ratings and stay within the medium to find several companies who are actually capable of whipping up those subscriber numbers.
But of course, MMO's are a lot more "difficult", there's people who use time cards you know. And it's not like there's pay-per view schemes in Television we could figure out how they do their measurements on right? Oh wait there are.

But let's look at a different branch. Mobile phones. You buy a viewer, or Jobsian status symbol, which enables you to make use of the services which (in its basic subscription form) costs you a monthly fee *plus* pay-per-view. There's alternate forms like pre-paid cards (time cards actually use pretty much the *same* technology) and partial flat fee models. There's deals and hundreds of models of 'viewer' too. Where a Funcom MMO will typically have a convoluted subscription system, it's nothing like the plethora of options you get at your local Phonehouse store. Somehow mobile phone companies are capable of generating useful, meaningful and very, very data-minable user statistics.

In fact a former colleague at Spellborn, who used to work for one of those companies in their marketing department, explained to me how their data mining gave them an 80% accuracy estimate on when you'd switch subscription plans or want a new model phone and even what way you'd be likely to jump. They had 95% accuracy over a time span of a month. He was bemoaning the fact that privacy laws prevented his company to do targeted advertisement based on that data. They're limited to using the data anonymously (in the Netherlands and EU anyway) so have to play with global campaigns, rather than individually targeted ones.

I'm taking my usually rumbling long way to get to a point here. And it's that the technology required to get meaningful user data about things like MMO players has been in existence, for longer than MMO's exist. So the argument it's hard to get them is poppycock.

Counting bottle-caps is hard you know:
Let's take a look at some reasonably standardisable numbers which I don't for a second believe Craig doesn't have access to:

Concurrent users: This means the nr of concurrently logged on users at time X. You can poll this once an hour on every server, aggregate that and collect the data over time so you can make some nice graphs showing Server load over time for each server. Any MMO company which doesn't at least have the ability to collect this data from logs doesn't deserve to be in business. You don't just gather this data in order to produce nice fluffy "Active User" numbers for your Marketing department to throw around, but your Live Operations team kinda needs to know this as well.
This is all the information you need to produce a number called: Active Players This Day. From there it's real easy to go to Week, Month, Year. Just use the AVG formula in Excel.

Log on/off session data: Similarly to concurrent user data which you're storing for technical use, logging on and off fires a loggable event. The same for Session time outs. Collecting average in-game time from this is a breeze. Heck, EQ-II easily collected a ton more than this and academics are having lots of fun with it. Excel, or a decent data analysis tool can get you nice graphs with average in-game time and the argument that in-game time doesn't necessarily mean play time is moot. Players know this. They play MMO's and have a good idea of how intensively they really use their online time.

So we have two numbers that can easily be fabricated out of data any MMO company worth their salt is collecting anyway... In fact, if you're willing to have a developer spend a few days setting it up you can buy turn-key third party solutions compelte with auto-generated graphs on a nice little web-server or in PDF format mailed to you at configured intervals.

An apple is not a pear, but who cares if you're counting fruit:
Craig also intimated that there's some difference between the definitions of player, user and subscriber and of course there's those pesky time-cards to obfuscate things. But wait. In a subscription based game, isn't a Time-card equal to a month's subscription? Or three months, depending on how many different cards you got? So would it be safe to put a user who bought and activated (you have this data!) a one month time-card be comparable to someone who used their credit card to pay non-recurring for a month's subscription? Yes you can. You can also keep them segregated in your monthly report which your payment services provider is legally bound to provide you with at each month.

Gasp! What? You mean, subscriber numbers are actually readily and transparently provided to MMO company CFO's?
Yes, yes they are.
Any MMO publisher not able to whip up a report breaking down paid for subscriptions into Different subscription and payment plans will not have a clear fix on their revenue streams. Since Investors and shareholders alike take a dim view of that kind of thing, you can bet your rosy butt they do have this information. I've seen these types of reports first hand so I know they exist, and are not that hard to break down into simple numbers.

Of course there's the problem that not everyone measures in the same way. This makes it less transparent. Blizzard's Active Subscribers may mean something other than Funcom's Active Users. Oddly enough this hasn't brought the industry to a halt. The key is transparency. Both Blizzard and Funcom have to provide transparency to these numbers to their Investors/Shareholders. Ofcourse they try to spin, massage and otherwise obfuscate their numbers towards these people as well. It's second nature to them. The computer Branch (hard- soft- and serviceware) has been notoriously lousy at using branch-wide measurement numbers. The reaosn for that is the same reaosn that Craig would rather use something as inaccurate as a Nielsen's rating for MMO Ratings than provide the public with accurate and transparent numbers. It's not in their best interest to provide these numbers.

I can't blame him for that really. He makes some good arguments on how success means something different for each project. Project goals generally aren't publicly announced and it's the meeting of those goals which define success, not an arbitrary number like subscribers. Why he doesn't come out and say so in the first article but but rather pretents his and other companies are incompitent and generating numbers is hard I don't know.
So while his second article actually makes sense, it's undermined by the poppycock arguments of the first article.

Thursday, September 23

Mapping Stereotypes



Somebody pointed me to a wonderful list of great maps of Europe. Of course everybody thinks Holland is the place to go for drugs. Apparently except the Italians, who think that is where Canada is. The entire list of great maps can be found here. Maybe I should try to make an MMO prejudice map...

Monday, September 20

The worst part is...



I recognize most of the references they make in the lyrics

Friday, September 17

Dead Kennedy's were on to a good thing?



Thank God I'm not an American.
It's also a good thing to this guy probably never listens to Punk Rock or he might mistake a certain song for a Good Idea:

Thursday, September 16

Why are we playing games?

Zubon at Kill Ten Rats has a nice article about pro-social design.
While the article is good it also scares me in a way as it seems to hint that the reason I play games has been put by the wayside completely. Here's an excerpt:
For example, consider Marks of Triumph in The Lord of the Rings Online™: Shadows of Angmar™. The epic quest chain is a big feature for LotRO, but it was punctuated with instances that demanded full groups. If most of the population had completed them all, how did newer players and alts get through the epics? You asked someone to repeat one. Repeating one was a way to help friends, but you got jack for it. Your friends had to give something up, and you would not meet new people unless someone was a very charitable stranger (or, lucky day, you find a few people who need it, a couple of whom have charitable friends). Game update: repeating one of those instances began to award (once per five days) a Mark of Triumph; accumulate several Marks to barter for various rewards. The rewards were rather nice for when they were released. Pro-social behavior increased.
Ok. very nice game mechanic to make people do something they don't want to. Erm, hold on what is it they don't want to do? Well, play a rather nice grouped instance of a game. You know, have fun playing. Why don't they want to do that? Because there's no reward in it for them. The nice mechanic provides that mechanic.

Now, on the one hand I'm all in favour of mechanics like these, that give a little more incentive, but what bugs me is that the author never once considers people might actually want to redo that instance for the fun of it. Are instances so horrible we really solely do them for the rewards they give? These rewards that ostensibly make us better at playing the game are the goal now, not having fun playing the game. Just the Phat Lootz.

Yes I know, old argument and really not what the article is about. However, it sometimes bugs me the way we're all put on the treadmill of rewards where the joy of game is no longer in having fun anymore.

Worse, its an unspoken accepted fact by now it seems.

Friday, September 10

Tentative connections

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Decisions decisions. Shall I go through the trouble of finding out how to contact Entropia Support Department, which is the only bit not featurieng a hyperlink oddly enough, to have this barely remembered account (I think I tried it for all of 90 minutes that time) and thereby signalling to them that this is in fact still an active e-mail account, or just quietly inform my spam filter to expect another e-mail in 150 days?

Hmmmm.....

This and other equally blindingly obvious should I or shouldn't I quandaries trouble professionals around the world and kept me from digging in on the life expectancy topic this night shift.

Monday, September 6

Steve Erikson explains himself

Of course there are three storm-clouds. Of course this detail is relevant. It's how short stories work.
This in regard to a small detail in the first installment of his 10 doorstopper series...
It may sound odd, but this is the essence of what makes the Malazan Tales of the Fallen at the same time so wonderful and yet hard to get into. Erikson writes his bookstoppers with the same intensity of prose as if they wore short storeis, with every line having deeper meaning. No filler.

Read the full gem of explanation here.

What's your MMO life expectancy?

No I don't mean whether you expect to be playing MMO's into your dotage or if you think you'll be able to achieve the Survivor title in Guild Wars 2.

I'm thinking about churn, and how it has changed, sped up over the years.
When I look back about five to six years ago I would be playing a single MMO for six to ten month straight.
I think it's safe to say that this has been roughly halfed since then. Most MMO's I've tried since have lasted three months (including the first 'free' month). Another thing I've noticed is a higher rate of coming back to MMO's.

Not counting crap like Archlord and RFO of which I didn't make it through the:
  • Guild Wars: 10 months actively playing, several revisits of days/weeks.
  • EverQuest II: 6 months active then moved to Vanguard, 4 revisits of one month each.
  • Vanguard: 9 months, two revisits of a month each.
  • Lineage II: 4 months, two revisits of a month each.
  • Anarchy Online* 3 months, 3 revisits of one month each.
  • Dungeons & Dragons Online: 2 months, 2 revisits of a month each.
  • Lord of the Rings Online: 2.5 Months, one revisit.
  • Eve Online: 1 Month, 1 revisit.
  • City of X-es: 3 months initially, several revisits, one of which lasted 4 months
  • Tabula Rasa: 2 months
  • Warhammer Online: 2 Months (and half a year in Closed Beta which was more fun)
  • Age of Conan: 6 months, then two retries of one month each.
  • Aion: One month (barely)
  • Fallen Earth: 4 months of wich 2 months active, one month semi-active, one month inactive.
  • Second Life: Intermittent visiting for over a year.
I probably missed a title and there's several F2P MMO's like RoM, Allods and Free Realms I gave a shot but those universally failed to keep me interested. There's various reasons for the different times I spent in game. Sometimes I liked the game but didn't connect with the community at all (DDO, FE) sometimes the feeling of grind started within the first month (Aion, Tabula Rasa) or sometimes other stuff got in the way. So don't take the length in-game as an indication of how well I liked the game.

What I'm getting at is that I see a shifting trend from playing an MMO for six to ten months in 2004-2006 to playing three months or so after launch then revisiting occasionally since. Actually I revisited the 'classics' as well, so maybe that's not important. If an MMO I'm interested in were to launch October first, I expect to be cancelling my subscription around New Year's Eve as a result. While working at Spellborn I learned that the average churn at the time was six month. This was 2006 and that seems to match my MMO playing habits at the time.

Now my questions for you are:
  • Do you sense a similar trend in your playing habits / those of people in general?
  • Why do you think that is?
  • Do you think MMO deisgners are adequately anticipating this trend or causing it (inadvertently?)
* not counting the $5 a month year long subscription I'd forgotten to cancel

FFXIV - A few thoughts and info

First thing to do with this game is forget everything you've ever learned in the majority of MMO's and approach it as a genre unto itself. Second thing to do is be prepared for a steep learning curve. On top of an open mind and a degree of patience you'll also need a half decent machine to play it on. It's been optimised a lot over the course of the betas and I'm guessing that work isn't yet finished. On my system ( Phenom 2.4ghz Quad, 4gb RAM and Gforce 260GTX) it runs very nicely, with visuals set at max, it's not a great system so I'm of the belief they've done a pretty good job to get something looking this good working so well on a machine of this level.

Controls have been one of the big bug bears since info started to leak from earlier betas, it's obvious that the game is optimised for using a controller. I find using the traditional keyboard and mouse set up works well enough for navigating the world, there is some lag with the mouse but not enough to make me dig out that PS3 controller buried in the depths of my messy drawer. The biggest problem with using keyboard and mouse is the menu, if you've played any of the Final Fantasy series on a Playstation you'll be familiar with the way it works. Mouse lag on the menu and the extra button presses do slow down getting through options, it's not a game breaker, just something else that requires some patience.

The fatigue system has been another cause for controversy - You get 8 hrs at full XP threshold (SE have some formula for the max possible xp earned per hour) , the following 7 hrs sees a slowing down of XP to zero. The system resets weekly. SE say the idea of this is to not give players with more time an advantage, the cynic in me says time sink. In effect it currently limits you to 15 hours a week of full level boosting play time but if your not a pure grinder it means much more than that. You can of course still get on with other things like being social or gathering and crafting.

There are five races to choose from, The Hyur (Human types), Elezen (Elf type), Lalafell (small childlike race), Miqo'te (Cat people but only female available) and Roegadyn (Big brutish humanoids, only male). Each race has up to 4 sub types with slightly different looks and stats. After choosing your main race and sub type you can customise your character, 4 or 5 face options, 4 or 5 hair options and colour, ears, nose, mouth, eyes and a few characteristics like facial hair and tattoos. Not the most far reaching of options but not the worst either, it is likely you'll see a carbon copy of you sooner rather than later.


Once you've picked your race and customised your character it's time to pick your class, there are 4 main archetypes which split in to further sub types:

Disciples of War
  • Gladiator
  • Maurador
  • Pugilist
  • Archer
  • Lancer
Disciples of Magic
  • Thaumaturge
  • Conjurer
Disciples of the Land
  • Fisher
  • Botanist
  • Miner
Disciples of the Hand
  • Carpenter
  • Blacksmith
  • Armorer
  • Goldsmith
  • Leatherworker
  • Weaver
  • Alchemist
  • Culinarian
Once you've picked your class you aren't limited to it, by simply equiping the appropriate weapon or tool you switch classes and have access to their skills. When you first switch to a different class you start at zero experience so they need to be leveled up individually.

Switching weapons will switch your class and the first weapon skill in your action bar, the rest of the skills need to be changed manually, skill slots need to be cleared before a skill can be replaced. There is no quick way to switch weapons and skills without setting up macros, patience is needed again to find your way around the system and set up the macros, once that's done life gets a hell of a lot easier, just edit your macro as you gain new skills. I currently use a macro to clear all skills except for slot one (switching weapon does that automatically), I then have seperate macros for each class that switch the weapon and add the appropriate skills in to their slots. Finding the skills wasn't easy, I was running around with only one skill for ages before I decided to take a closer look at that blank drop down menu which then revealed a set of skills for each class I had unlocked.

Getting the weapons and tools is of course your crucial first step in playing the other classes, finding them however isn't that simple. None of the NPC's have titles, which means that in that row of 8 stores one of the NPC's might have something you need, your going to have to speak to each one, the current problem there is that there's a significant delay between selecting the buy option and the goods window showing up, it gets frustrating after the fifth shop keeper has nothing you want and theres three more to go. Luckily a lot of what you need can be bought in the class guild shop, once you've located it in your local city, if of course they have a building in your local city. I've yet to find an armorer or blacksmith in my current starting city.

There is no ability for your character to jump, at first you think 'no big deal' but then you realise that as you explore your limited by terrain, some areas are worse than others, in a forest area I felt like I was continually being railed in, see that foot high hill there? forget getting over it until you've walked further to find a ramp, the desert area on the other hand felt free and open despite its elevations. While I'm on exploration - mob levels can seem quite random, you think you've conquered those mobs in your local area that are hitting you for 40 damage, you decide to explore further, see something new and before you know it you've been one shot for 3000, caution is your friend. Exploring in some directions is too dangerous for your health. Mob difficulty is colour coded - blue to red, blue being easy, green about right, orange getting likely it will kill you and red your pretty much dead when it looks at you, or so the theory goes. I've had blue mobs get me closer to death than some red mobs, the colours are a general guide but no guarantee of difficulty.

Instead of quests FFXIV has something called leves. Each leve has a starting point based at an aetherite (sp?) crystal based in some camp away from the city, there is also one in each city but so far no content for them has been forthcoming. Currently repeatable leves are on a 48hr cooldown. Leves can be scaled to match how you play, solo or various sizes of group. leves do not reward xp, they reward currency, faction and the occasional item. Completion of a leve will result in the spawning of another aetherite crystal at your location, use it to pick up your reward and teleport back to the starting crystal or let it disappear and carry on exploring. A leve is usually picked up in a city from the guilds, the leve will tell you which camp you need to go to start it. Leves are timed. Leves are available for all classes.

As you'll have seen from my earlier screenshot post this game is a stunner, it is very easy to lose yourself in the world if graphics are your thing. The animations are the best I've seen anywhere. The areas have environmental effects, from heavy downpours in the woods to sandstorms in the desert. The day night cycle is wonderful, subtle changes happen throughout the world day.

Combat is slower paced than what you would be expecting in an MMO, you'll either get used to it or run away bored to tears, I got used to it and now enjoy the relaxed pace. There's nothing innovative about combat and most of the time you'll just be button mashing to get through.

Content is really lacking in the Open Beta, having exhausted the first 4 adventurers leves your left with doing the crafting/gathering leves or grinding until the 48hr timer is up. Various speculative posts across the interwebz give the lack of content as SE holding back so as not to spoil the story or holding back so that you need to play the real deal to properly experience the content.

Reading through various forums and blogs it's clear that there are a lot of people non too happy about having to work just to grasp the basics of this game, if you need a solid tutorial and aren't prepared to live through some frustration then this game isn't for you. You need patience to battle through menu options and be prepared to work a little to get things moving.

I think this game has loads of potential, I'm enjoying my time, somehow within a world so beautiful, peopled with strange inhabitants the grind doesn't feel so bad and there's the clincher, is this world for you? I'd recommend anyone take a look while they can but to do so with an open mind and a willingness to learn a different way of doing things.

I was initialy anti a pre order, the lack of content has me concerned but as pre ordering is cheaper than buying the standard edition I'm throwing caution to the wind, getting it for sub £30 doesn't seem a waste to me and I'm intrigued to see what else this game has to offer.

Sunday, September 5

Sunday Screens FFXIV

All screens are from Open Beta.
Sign up at : http://entry.ffxiv.com/

Yes they have Chocobos

This Opo-Opo looks cute but would have killed me if I attacked
PWNed by Naked Moles

For a desert area this is pretty damn nice

Copper Coblyn - I blame it on it's diet

Another weird creature found in a cave
Another desert view, the lighting impressed me here

Nahkti - trying to work out how to join in on the carpentry

At least someone sussed out crafting

City streets

Wednesday, September 1

Sunday, August 29

Irony

MMOG's I'm looking forward to in order of anticipation:
  1. Star Wars: The Old Republic
  2. Guild Wars 2
  3. The Secret World
  4. Rift
  5. Final Fantasy XIV
MMOG's coming out soon in (likely) order of Launch:
  1. Final Fantasy XIV
  2. Rift
  3. The Secret World
  4. Guild Wars 2
  5. Star Wars: The Old Republic
Of course, only FF-XIV's launch is anywhere near certain (next month). The rest is just guestimate. Also ironic is that while I'm looking forward to SW:TOR more I suspect GW2 to have better longevity of entertainment for me. The irony there being that the latter doesn't have a monthly subscription to take advantage of that.

Friday, August 27

TSW - Starting Out in London

You and three more

I use Google Reader to keep track of all the news feeds I read, from News to ICT stuff and from book reviews to (the majority) MMO and videogaming feeds.
As visitors of The Stuffed Yammob probably know, I 'share' the items I find interesting (note that a shared item doesn't necessarily mean I agree with its content) and when I really feel strongly enough that I have something to say about the article I'll write a post about it here.

For about a year now, Google has an added feature borrowed from social media design that they hope will make ther Search results even better. The "I like" button.
Every once in a while I'm seduced to clicking that button, when I see something funny or such. Then imemdiately afterwards I have to sigh and decide not to use it for a while.

Why? Because this is the result:
4 people liked this - you, and 3 more

I'm *so* happy Google is willing to assist me with that difficult arithmetic chore.
I'd be lost without them turly I would. (especially if trying to use them from a countrty who's language I don't speak/read)

Wednesday, August 25

GW2 - Necromancer Revealed


The class was revealed at gamescom, since then we've seen lots of the class in action from demo videos, sadly the skill videos got leaked before this article was published. Well worth a watch if you haven't already seen them.

Doom
We get to see an Asura in action for the first time and I'm relieved to see it doesn't look too cute.


Bone Minions + Putrid Explosion
My personal favourite, the Charr looks mean in its ornate leather version of the Necromancer blindfold, the minions look as deathly as they should and the way the Necro uses them is pure evil, I almost feel sorry for them.


Grasping Dead
An AoE that has a line of effect, pulling your enemies to the ground and letting the dead at them. I'm not that impressed with the models for the arms.


Locust Swarm
The AoE used directly before Locust swarm has a nice bite animation and the swarms themselves are great, they steal health so this video seems a little misleading


Life Siphon
An oldie but a goody from GW1 given a GW2 update


All in all nice skill videos, got me looking forward to playing my favourite class again.

Well and Minions are back along with Fear and something new called 'Marks', ground targetted spells whose effect is either triggered after a time or triggered by the necromancer, seems like we get our own version of traps

Monday, August 23

RP done right

Last week was a good gaming week for me. On Tuesday Zentia opened its server for the Open Beta test, which actually just means it went live. It is a F2P game and there will be no character wipe when they go officially 'live'. So nothing will change on the that day. But that is all besides the point. On Tuesday I started playing and got pulled in by the charm of the game. It is an MMO since I saw many other players, often looking just like me. But nobody talked. It is still a fun game, but with a non-existing community.



On that same Tuesday something else went live as well: City of Heroes: Going Rogue. It is not a new game. It is an expansion to the existing City of Heroes / City of Villains world. One of the features it is allowing heroes to become villains and vise versa. This means there is no good vs evil anymore. Anybody can play anywhere. I haven't tried out yet what it takes to switch sides. I am not so excited about this actually. It is blurring the lines and makes it all one big mash of uninspired hack-and-slash missions. Badge Hunters and Power Levelers might be excited, but I think it is a bit of a loss. I had actually already gotten closed beta
access a few weeks back, but never found the urge to try it out.

But on Thursday I got an email from one of my usual Sunday Afternoon team members. She was summing up the characters they had made so far. They were still low level, so I would have the change to catch up before our Sunday session. And that was all I needed to get my creative juices going. Even before I got home I had thought up two characters, their looks, and roughly their background story. City of Heroes is for me the most brilliant world for making believable characters with completely different personalities and views on their world. Just thinking about them is already a joy.

Besides cutting the line between good and evil the expansion is also adding an entire new 'City' called Praetoria. It is in an alternate universe where everything is upside down from life in Paragon City. The city is ruled by Emperor Cole who created a wonderful utopia of peace and serenity. But of course all is not well. The resistance is trying to point out the people are being oppressed in a 1984 kind of way. Half way through the tutorial you get to chose to be a Loyalist or Resistance. This much I knew before I started. In picture one are some of the resistance fighters, one of the new groups you get to fight or protect in Praetoria.



My first new character is Julia Blake. She is the sister of two other Blake sisters I had made before. Mandy Blake is a hero against her will thanks to technological implants that were surgically put in her body by Crey Technologies. She was a rebel fighter with Charles Taylor in Liberia originally. Mandy was one of the very first characters I had created 5 years ago now. Sarah Blake is the younger sister that learned dark magic tricks during the days of chaos in Liberia. She had come to the Rogue Islands to gain even more power, then get her sister and return home to get everything the way it was supposed to be. That was her dream when City of Villains got first released. Now in this alternate universe Charles Taylor was successful and became one of the good friends of Emperor Cole. Julia, the older sister of Mandy and Sarah, becomes one of Cole's assassins. She will ruthlessly surpress anybody that threatens the peace. Apart from her personal history she is pretty much like the Operative from Serenity.

So with a great personality is place I/she stepped into the world that makers of COH made for us. And I was not disappointed. The City of Nova Praetoria is done very nice. It looks almost divine. High shiny buildings and immaculate kept parks and squares. Everywhere are I, Robot look-alike cleaners, sweepers, builders. Right from the start you get thrown into a very story driven series of missions. After the first choice between loyalist or resistance you get soon to make another choice. As loyalist I got the choice to either play a power hungry oppertunist or a worker in the shadows that just wants to keep the utopia that Emperor Cole created. Julia is clearly fitting in the second bucket. But I messed up a bit and played through one of the power arcs too. So I know a bit what is about as well. The story telling is so compelling I got completely hooked and played every minute I could.



After I played way too much with my loyalist I had to create a resistant fighter as well. The noble side of the resistance is to free the people from the tyranny of Cole. People should be allowed to life, think and act freely. I haven't completely figured out how she got there, but an alternate alternate universe version Phedre, named Phedre-, is taking up this task. As it turns out just like the loyalists you have to make a decision early on. You can either be working on a peaceful way to overthrow the empire, or just cause chaos and fight for the sake of fighting. Phedre- is of course still full or morals. I didn't get to play too far into the story since I got another update from my Sunday team. We were going to introduce the Carnies to Praetoria. The circus troupe is going to be a chaos loving resistance group. So I went back to the character creation screen to make the charming Director Jones. She is such a doll.



With a six man group we had a blast causing mayhem wherever we stepped. Because the lines between heroes and villains got cut you can be any class. So we had a mix of blaster, brute, tanker, controller and dominator. As always the missions scaled perfectly for the team size, and even for a veteran team like us we had a challenge on our hands. Of course still plenty of time to get into character and make fun of the silly policemen, pretentious resistance leaders, and bow to Vanessa in the resistance bunker. She is the level-up trainer, and only other Carnie in town.

If you managed to read all this you probably figured out I am all hooked on COH again. And probably I am. I think they did an awesome job creating this new world where choices have some impact. The crossing story lines add to the depth of the game. The server load on all servers was red or yellow on Sunday. It has been a long time I have seen even one server go yellow. This means many players have returned or are now signing up. Good news all round. But I think it might be short lived.

There are issues too. The new world ends at level 20, which is normally not much more than two weeks of play. Most players can do that in a day. After you are done in Praetoria you get thrown into the once black and white world of COH/COV. Neither of them really fit the background of the characters I created. I have the feeling I will feel lost once I reach 20. Also, the stories are great. But if you have played through the four arcs once or twice you have seen it all, done it all. They created some excellent new groups, funny NPCs, original missions, and some really nice new styles in the mission maps. But they are all limited to the new zone which you might be done with within a week.

So the euphoria that I have now might die out soon. And as it dies in me it will probably do so in the vast majority of other players as well. But no need to talk doom too much. I am having an amazing fun gaming experience at the moment, and that is what counts. Unlike the very weird and misplaced Roman zone they created last year this is something they can build upon for the next several issues. I'll be around for at least another year.