Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's not the game: it's you

Anjin over at Bullet Points put up a great post yesterday that struck a nerve with me. He points out that, having raced to the cap, a lot of MMO commentators are now bored with Cataclysm and suddenly turning on it; some even going so far as to call it the "worst expansion in the history of WoW." More generally, he points out that for some bizarre reason many MMO "fans" consider a game that fails to hold their attention for years a failure; an expectation which is hardly realistic. I think he's dead on.

Why is it that so many commentators that would be perfectly happy with an offline game that lasts them for a week or two consider an MMO that lasts them a "mere" two or three months an abysmal failure? If you have gotten bored with your current MMO and find yourself bitter about it, ask yourself these questions: (1) Before you hit the grindy annoying endgame (or whatever it was that put you off of it), were you having fun? (2) Did you play it for at least as long as an average offline CRPG? If the answer to both of those is yes, I would argue that you got your money's/ time's worth.

I think some of this bizarre expectation comes from the games that many of us cut our teeth on. In launch era EQ it could easily take a week of grinding, sometimes in the same spot, just to get a level. And the levels themselves were often pretty meaningless, with new abilities coming along maybe every four to eight levels. Some MMOs like Anarchy Online were even more glacial. I can't imagine how long it took to hit the level cap of 200. I think I made it to 20 or so in a month when I tried it. If you had the patience for it, you'd be playing for something like a year just to get to the level cap in many games back then. In EQ, even at the cap there was the whole AA system that could keep you grinding even longer. Players expecting that kind a snail paced grindfest would be put off by a game that they can blow through in a "mere" hundred hours I suppose.

Yes, being stuck in molasses for a solid year just to be able to see all the zones on offer did give players a lot of time to get to know each other and build up relationships. Judged as a social experiment, you could argue that old school MMOs were rather successful. However, judged as "games" I'd argue that they were largely failures. The moment to moment game play tended to pretty much suck. Launch era EQ was slow, repetitive, and demanded the sort of spare time that only a single college student is very likely to have.

More to the point, what really mystifies me about some MMO commentators is that once they decide they don't like a game, they can't seem to get past it. They act like a jilted lover, or the victim of a war crime. For ever after whenever a particular MMO is mentioned they can't help but pipe up about how "sucky" it is. If the MMO that burned them happens to be something popular like LoTRO or WoW, they may even concoct all sorts of unlikely explanations as to why a game that "obviously sucks" can be entertaining to so many players. Often, these theories boil down to something along the lines of "I simply have much better taste/ am a much better gamer than the mentally deficient masses that inhabit that shallow carnival ride." So endearing, not at all arrogant...

I think it's a good thing to let people know what you didn't like about a given game when you stop playing. It warns off players that might have similar taste, and potentially provides feedback to the developers. However, at some point you need to move on. Let the players that like the game (often some tens of thousands even in the case something like WAR that hemorrhaged subs after launch) have their fun. Move on to something you find fun. Spending months (or even years in some cases) attacking a game and the players that enjoy it says a lot more about you than it does about the game.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Archaeology in WoW: it doesn't totally suck

Before Cataclysm came out the archaeology system was one of the features that I was most looking forward to in the expansion. However, once it came out, due what I heard and read about it in various places, I rapidly lost interest. For example, in a video guide to the system here the guide spends roughly half his time whining about how boring the system is, and how it seems designed to get lowbies ganked. I finally got around to trying archaeology last night, and found myself pleasantly surprised by it. Rock bottom expectations going in to something will do that for you I suppose ;-)

I like the little lore tidbits that you can unlock. I like that it doesn't take up precious inventory space. I was also surprised by how much XP you get from it. At level 77, with rested XP I was getting 30,000 XP per area I cleared out, and 15K once I ran out of rested XP. That's pretty good considering a typical even con quest turn in is about 20K XP at my level.

Further, I think it adds something the game badly needed: a rewarding solo activity for when you don't feel like questing or grinding on mobs. Fishing could have been that system, but I dislike how long it takes to advance it at higher levels and how fickle the random advancement system can be. Cooking could have also been that system, but every time I've taken it up I've eventually abandoned it due to the enormous amount of storage space needed to keep ingredients stocked and the stochastic way that you tend to acquire ingredients (and thus are able to make food). I don't want to carry around randomly sized stacks of six different types of food in my bags at all times. Finally, neither of them yields XP on par with questing (if admittedly a good bit slower once you burn through your rested XP).

The system isn't perfect. I'm not really looking forward to making the same 5 silver vendor trash dwarf boot multiple times. I'm also never quite sure which dig sites belong to which race on the big map (perhaps I'm missing something). Lastly, a flying mount is nearly mandatory to make decent progress, and I'd honestly recommend waiting on the epic 280% flyer to get started on it.

However, all in all I had fun with it. I made decent XP without getting into a single fight (well apart from random gray mobs that committed suicide by attacking me), I had a good excuse to fly around the old world picking up flight paths I missed my first time through, and I also made a decent amount of cash mining as I flew around. I won't be doing it every night, but for me it will be a nice change of pace from questing now and again.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Still here

Apologies for the radio silence. Since my last post I burned out the power supply on my main rig for a 3rd time, this time playing Star Trek Online rather than Champions Online. I finally realized I need a bigger power supply if I intend to play any Cryptic games.

What threw me was that nothing else has given me problems at maxed or nearly maxed settings, including Age of Conan. In the last year I haven't had any issues with my rig, and I kind of assumed it was simply an odd coincidence my system died twice while I was playing CO. However, three times while playing games using the Cryptic engine seems like more than a coincidence. Further, thinking back, the CO era Cryptic engine is at least a year younger than the engine of anything else I normally play. My theory is that it pushes my quad core in a way that most MMOs don't and the power supplies I've been using can't keep up with.

I'm upping my power supply to 530, in theory 110 watts more than my system needs according to calculators I've found. It also seems to be the sweet spot on performance versus cost at newegg. Hopefully this will be the last time I post about a Cryptic game exploding my PC. In the mean time, I've been playing a lot of WoW on my backup PC. To give you the short short version of my next post, archaeology was a pleasant surprise.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2010: a Great Year for Old MMOs

Some commentators have been fairly gloomy when looking back at 2010, pointing out that Star Trek Online was virtually the only new MMO to launch last year and not faceplant almost immediately. The massive win of STO over the competition in Massively's end of the year poll has even been cited as evidence that the majority of MMOs released in 2010 stunk. While it's hard to deny that some 2010 MMOs launches like APB and FFXIV were utterly disastrous, that line of reasoning assumes that STO is merely a mediocre MMO that would never be noticed in a normal year. That's certainly debatable.

STO is actually one of the more original big budget MMOs I've tried, with a lot of interesting mechanics I haven't seen anywhere else. The character advancement mechanics (including ship customization) are flexible and surprisingly deep. In addition, the contrast between ground and space combat is stark. Vehicle combat in too many games feels like combat on foot...only in a vehicle. Ship combat in STO feels like a Star Trek ship-to-ship combat sim. Finally, it's not a fantasy MMO; in itself refreshing in a market that was already glutted with fantasy MMOs years ago.

Regardless of whether you think 2010 was a bad year for new MMOs, I'd argue that it was a fantastic year for established MMOs. Dungeons and Dragons Online really hit it's stride, offering up tons of new content over the course of the year. It sucked me in for a good three months; this practically became a DDO blog for a while. Wizard 101 also got lot of new content, including a new gardening system that Tipa did some great write-ups of. LoTRO converted to a FtP model, and according to a recent interview the revenue of the game has tripled since they made the switch.

Everquest also II launched their free to play server, by most accounts greatly increasing their playerbase and revenue (though SOE has released no hard numbers that I'm aware of). It certainly hooked me. I got further this time around in EQ II than I ever did in my previous three attempts, likely in no small part due to joining the guild that Ardwulf started. The game itself is also more polished and engaging than it's ever been. Further, say what you will of their overall pricing scheme, ten dollars for a silver membership is an amazing deal. You have an enormous full featured MMO available to you forever even if you decide not to pay a dime after that.

Finally, Cataclysm launched in December and became the fastest selling PC game in history. Agree or disagree with the massive revamp of the game that accompanied it, that's an amazing achievement.

I had a ton of fun bopping around random FtP MMOs in 2010. While several new MMOs certainly failed to make it off the runway without bursting into flames, overall I'd rate 2010 as an exciting year to be an MMO enthusiast.