Stropp's World

Games And Gamery

If It Smells Like Spin

Posted by Stropp on March 29, 2013

An interesting post by Green Armadillo over at PvD about player motivations. Mysterious player motivations actually. In it GA references two games and recent comments made by those responsible for them.

I don’t want to get into debates about the merits of these games or systems in this post, but I do want to talk about why these comments don’t ring true to me.

First of all these comments are coming from two veterans of the computer game industry, and not just that these are guys that have been in the front lines of game development for many years. We should also consider that they have worked on some of the biggest and most anticipated games to date; they’re not lightweights. They’ve been around the block a few times. They are the cream of the crop.

Game developers, and particularly MMORPG developers, have known since the first MMOs, that players have a tendency to rush to the level cap. MMO players consume content like a zombie consumes brains. How many games release one day, then two or three days later have players announcing they’ve capped.

How many articles and blog posts have we read about players complaining that a game has no high end content because they’ve rushed and run out of content well in advance of what the developers planned for?

And look at auction houses with the millions of words written about them. How we see players aggressively pursuing the market, and engaging in trading practices that would make the NYSE blush or proud depending on who was running it at the time.

Right from the start of MMO gaming, players have looked for ways to make their characters as effective as they possibly can be. Asheron’s Call players may be familiar with such things as 10/100/10/100/100 (I think I got the attributes for a mage correct there.) Players will min/max to make the right character, even if more distributed settings will create a more well rounded but weaker character.

So to hear a pair of veteran game developers, in 2013, say they underestimated what players would do with the long standing and well understood systems they were putting in their games…

Really?

SWToR Free To Play — That Was Quick

Posted by Stropp on August 1, 2012

The SWToR devs have announced that Star Wars The Old Republic is going to go to the free to play model.

That didn’t take very long did it?

I’m sure all kinds of analysis is going to be published around the internet in the coming days about why this happened. Lot of commentary about how the subscription model, or the MMO genre itself, is dead will be written. I might drop a few words about the subject myself in the next few days.

Just my immediate reaction now though. Am I sad about this?

Well kinda. It’s sad to see the hard work done by the developers (programmers, artists, etc) go this way. Sure the game isn’t dead, but it’s a bit of an indictment on that effort don’t you think?

On the other hand, lots has been said over the last few years about the philosophy of simply copying WoW. And to be honest, SWToR is a gussied up copy of World of Warcraft with even less MMO. It is effectively a single player game with lots of other players. That the developers (executive) didn’t take notice of this shift is why we are seeing this gorgeous game fail*.

In the meantime I leave you with some pages to read. First of all, the comparison of free to play vs subscription features. And here is the FAQ from Bioware.

*Fail — Not meeting expectations.

 

Star Wars The Old Republic: Quick Thought

Posted by Stropp on May 9, 2012

While I was writing the last post, What Is Bioware Doing Wrong? A thought came to mind that didn’t fit in that post.

Having the Star Wars IP to develop a game is pretty much a free pass to a million or more box sales.

So why, with your development, go where every man has gone before? (I know, Star Trek reference doesn’t mix with Star Wars!)

Bioware could have done anything with The Old Republic. They could have made it a full sandbox with no quests, and sold two million boxes. So why did they stick with the themepark model that has been copping so much negativity over the last few years?

Bioware is, has been, a highly creative game developer. It’s a pity they didn’t use that creativity on more than just the class stories. Unless they completely botched it, they would have been successful.

Can a MMORPG Be Profitable With Short Term Players?

Posted by Stropp on February 15, 2012

I was just reading Keens thoughts on why he won’t be lasting more than two months in SWTOR.

He’s repeated a few things as to why I didn’t end up buying the game myself. I had two big problems of course, limited time and budget, that made me critically evaluate whether I’d play or not. A couple of years ago earning around 100K a year it would have been a no-brainer. Dropping over a hundred on a game (the initial purchase and a couple of months of subscription) wasn’t a matter of wallet.

But overall, I knew that if I got SWTOR it wasn’t going to be  a long term proposition for me. Buying a single player RPG is one thing, you don’t have to play it every day to get your moneys worth. A sub based MMO on the other hand kind of demands time spent. And unfortunately SWTOR is very single player oriented. Don’t get me wrong, Bioware have come up with some interesting mechanics to allow players to cooperate and not spoil their own character plans. (Selection and assignment of dark/light side points while in groups is a case in point.) But SWTOR never felt that much massively multiplayer to me.

But that isn’t where I want to go with this post. I digressed.

At the end of his post, Keen asks

Can this really count as a MMORPG if it only lasts a month?

That’s a really interesting question.

I think the obvious answer, at least to me, is yes. MMORPG stands, as we all know, for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. We don’t call them Massively Multiplayer Online Long Term Role Playing Games. Players don’t sign up for two year plans that prevent them from changing ‘providers.’ How long it takes a player to complete the game is irrelevant. As long as he or she enjoys it.

If the game allows dozens or hundreds of players in an online world to be in the game at the same time, and that there is an element of persistence, then the MMO acronym is deserved. RPG on the other hand, well, we do over use that term a bit these days, but the premise still holds. Having lots of players on at the same time in your online RPG makes it a MMORPG.

I think the more interesting question is can a MMORPG be profitable if it only lasts a month?

The usual way things work is that a when a game is released it sells well for a while, and then as new games enter the market, sales of the older ones drop away. Developers and publishers often continue to support these games, fixing bugs and patches and providing forum support for a while, but there is often no new content unless the game is designed for DLC. (I’m not counting sequels.) The most profitable period for the game is right after release. If the publisher gets the development costs and marketing mix right they can make a lot of money.

Can a MMORPG do the same?

SWTOR Death Thoughts

Posted by Stropp on February 3, 2012

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated — Samuel Clemens.

So yesterday EA reported that 1.7 million active accounts have been created for Star Wars The Old Republic. They also said that they needed 500K to break even, 1M for a mediocre profit, and it scales into awesomeness after that. The statement was also made that they no longer have to wait for the worst case scenarios.

Still, despite the launch success of SWTOR, there are still heaps of comments about the impending doom of SWTOR.

Hopefully this new info will put those comments to rest. Of course, those commentors that actively wish for the demise of the themepark model will probably continue to make predictions of the death of SWTOR based on wishful thinking, and not the facts. Those are likely to continue for years, flying in the face of the evidence. After all, World of Warcraft has been dying for how many years now?

Still, this doesn’t mean that SWTOR is out of the woods.

Bioware/EA is attempting something new here with the heavy focus on story. I for one hope they succeed, simply because it provides another arrow in the quiver of MMORPG designers if they do. That’s not to say I particularly like the linearity of the SWTOR experience, I’d far more like to see more freedom than an on-rails experience like that gives.  But if SWTOR fails, at such a development cost, that means that story in MMORPGs will be either ignored, or actively repudiated in future AAA MMOs. After all the bean counters these days want a sure thing.

If Bioware is at least somewhat successful, then developers may feel it worth to experiment with story in future games.

The big concern with SWTOR, now, is that players do not renew. The character stories are very linear and once complete, what then? Bioware has put a lot of effort into implementing systems that get players to create alts, simply to keep playing, but I wonder if that is going to backfire. Again I hope not, I’d like to see the game become a great success and draw a new generation of players into the genre.

Star Wars Galaxies: Gone, Or Is It?

Posted by Stropp on December 16, 2011

Star Wars Galaxies is having, or perhaps has had by this time, its last hurrah.

The servers are shutting down for good, any final in-game events have taken place, and the last players are now out in the cold after turning out the lights.

What to do now?

While many former Galaxies players will be heading for the warmer climes of Star Wars The Old Republic, there is perhaps another option for the SWG die hard… The emulator.

SWGEmu is a project that has been in development since the CU (combat upgrade) happened to SWG. It attempts to recreate the pre-CU experience for those players that hated the changes, and from what I understand there are several servers operating that allow players to use their game client to connect to the emulated servers.

The interesting thing about this is that often an emulator project isn’t started until a game is closing. It then takes years before former players can step back into the game world. Because of the CU, there is an emulator available for SWG immediately.

I find myself wondering if there will be a big influx of players to the SWGEmu servers at this time, or if SWTOR will soak them up.

I’d like your input here. Are you a SWG player? Now that Galaxies has closed are you considering an emulated server, or have you already?

SWTOR Day!

Posted by Stropp on December 13, 2011

Happy SWTOR Day.

Congrats to all those who are in for the early, early start. Here’s to a smooth launch and lots of Star Warsy goodness.

Bioware You Vex Me

Posted by Stropp on December 7, 2011

Bioware why do you taunt me so?

Having participated in the SWTOR weekend tests, I do think that I would love to play this game, at least running one of classes through the story to the end. But I cannot. Australia is not in the list of launch territories. I even checked with my local EB Games the other day, and they don’t have a date at all for the Star Wars The Old Republic release in Oz.

So it is looking like post February for an Aussie release.

So it is quite vexxing to receive an email from Bioware saying that if I can preorder I can get into the early access. They even provide a preorder link. Of course if I do try to preorder, EA Origin will stop me.

Sigh.

 

Why Star Wars The Old Republic Is Bad For Role Players

Posted by Stropp on November 30, 2011

A lot of words have been written about SWTOR lately.

The impression I get is that these words have been mostly positive about Star Wars The Old Republic. And, to a certain extent, this is rightfully so. SWTOR is actually a pretty decent game.

I was given the opportunity over the weekend to participate in the final stress test for the game, and spent the greater portion of the weekend doing so. While I enjoyed my time playing it, despite some fairly annoying bugs, I’ve come to the following conclusion about The Old Republic.

It’s good for themepark gamers, bad for role players.

Darkside/Lightside Points

Bioware for some time now in their games have been using a simple alignment system to let players choose to be nasty or nice. This has the effect of altering the game play to some degree by changing the outcomes of some conversations with NPCs, and even altering the path of the game a little, even though the end result is the same.

This works quite nicely in a game like Mass Effect to provide some replayability and allowing different choices on the way through, but whether a player in Mass Effect goes light or dark really has no effect on anything other than romantic choices. But Mass Effect is not a MMORPG.

The big problem here is that Bioware has tied light and darkside gear to this system. If you are playing a darkside Sith or Jedi, when you reach darkside level 1 you can purchase DS1 lightsabres. It’s not clear to me if this equipment is better than what is normally on offer, or awarded from quests, but if it is then this encourages players to choose one path, dark or light, and stick to it.

Why is that a problem, you say.

Well, your choice is removed. If you want to be able to raid later on, you will need the best gear. Even if raiding is not your goal, having decent equipment is still going to be something to be desired.You are going to want to make the ‘right’ choice for your path, not necessarily the right choice for your character.

In other words the current darkside/lightside system encourages min-maxing.

If you are a role player who also wants to be competitive in raiding or grouping, you will have to choose between picking the option that awards the most points or the option that feels right for your character.If you don’t give a care about end-game, sure feel free to make the choices you want.

I did create a character on the weekend that was intended to be unrelentingly evil, and making the dark choices was fun, but even so, the darkside choice didn’t always feel right. That’s why the best bad guys in books, movies, and TV are so interesting, they make interesting choices. The worst bad guys are the ones who bwaa ha ha all the time.

It’s also interesting to note that the Bioware idea of morality was a bit off at times. Some of the light side choices were distinctly on the wrong side of right.

Legacy System

The proposed legacy system dictates that when your character completes the first chapter you choose a unique legacy surname. That is then used for all your future characters on that server.

This build has our first iteration of the Legacy System! At its core the Legacy system is about allowing players to create a family tree of characters. Family is pretty important to the Star Wars universe, with the Skywalker family having one of the most interesting dynamics in movie history. This version is just the foundational components that we will use to build upon in the future. Here are the features of this iteration:

  • Once your character has completed their Chapter 1 storyline, they will be able to choose a Legacy Last Name. This Legacy Last Name must be unique and is shared across all characters on that server – so choose carefully!
  • Once you have unlocked your Legacy, any and all characters on that server will now contribute to that player’s Legacy Experience Points. Much like normal experience points, when you reach certain Legacy thresholds, you will increase yourLegacy Level.

We already have plans for how we will expand the functionality of the Legacy System in one of our major post-ship patches. This will include being able to shape your Legacy’s family tree, and give you a reward for all those Legacy Levels.

I”m not really certain what the purpose is for this. I’ve seen conjecture that it allows characters on a server to share equipment, or provides some kind of bonus, but from the announcement it isn’t really clear.

Once thing is clear though, once you have a legacy name every character on the same server, no matter what species or allegiance shares the same last name. So your Twi’lek Consular, Human Bounty Hunter, and Chiss Sith Warrior will all have the last name. Nope, no logical problems with that at all. After all different species often share the same cultural background that results in the same last names… Hmmm.

This incredible lack of logic does not even take into account that a player might simply want to create a role play character that is not associated with their other characters. It’s odd to me that Bioware, a company that has grown to greatness on the back of encouraging role play in its games, is almost completely disregarding it in SWTOR.

So, if you are a roleplayer, you are pretty much out of luck.

Companions/Ships

A big part of SWTOR is the companion system. As the player progresses he is awarded companions that he can interact with, do their storyline quests, and even romance. Unfortunately here the role player is also let down.

You see you don’t have a choice.

You are given the companions for your class. You can’t choose from a pool or selection.

Every Sith Warrior is going to run around with that whiney Twi’lek as the first companion. (No wonder I enjoyed shock collaring her so much!) About the best differentiation you can hope for is to change the skin colour.

I remember reading a lot of love for the Jawa companion, Blizz. He’s only available for the Bounty Hunter. So if you love Blizz but can’t stand the BH playstyle, tough. If you want to access Blizz you will have to play a character you don’t like.

Of course you get a choice of which of the companions to take with you on a mission, but even this is limited by your class. A Jedi Knight for example is a tank. A JK player will always take the companion that offers the best support role, a healer for example. Some companions will be useless (does a tank need a tank companion?) Other companions will be indispensible and always chosen.

The same goes for the ship you get. Every character gets a ship which is nice, but the bounty hunter gets one single type of ship while the Jedi Knight gets another.

Now while this doesn’t directly affect a players role playing choices as much as the first two points above, there is an indirect effect in that all players in a class are exactly the same.

No two Jedi are unique. No you are not a precious snowflake in Bioware’s galaxy.

Homogenousity

Okay. Made up word.

I guess everything I wrote above boils down into my biggest criticism of Star Wars The Old Republic.

There is very little room for customisation.

From character creation where there is barely any difference in some of the face styles and other choices (why couldn’t my Republic Zabrak have Darth Maul colourings?) to the rewards for light/dark side choices and companion and ship allocations there is very little chance for customisation.

For the most part players will be constrained to playing Star Wars The Old Republic through a fairly narrow and linear corridor.

Themepark players will love this game, as long as they are not roleplayers too. SWTOR is a masterpiece of themepark design, taking the player along on what appears to be a great story. But that’s about where it stops. It’s a very limited game in some respects, perhaps only having long term playability for raiders and those who enjoy battleground style PvP. There’s no sandpit in this themepark.

While the story that I’ve encountered so far is excellent, it is the Bioware story that is being played, not yours.

That’s why I think that SWTOR will be bad for role players.

How about you, what do you think?

 

 

Ahh Bobby, You’ve Done It Again!

Posted by Stropp on November 30, 2011

Question: What is Activision CEO Bobby Koticks favorite WoW Race?

Answer: Troll.

As SWTOR is rushing headlong to release, Bobby (I keep typing the name as Booby for some reason, must be freudian) Kotick has commented that he doesn’t think that EA will get much out of Star Wars The Old Republic. Apparently he reckons that Lucas makes sure all these deals come out heavily in his favor.

Well, duh.

Of course Lucas writes deals in his favor. He has one of the biggest IPs in history. He can.

But that doesn’t mean that EA gets nothing from this. They’re big too (are they still the biggest game publisher?) and have some negotiation skills available to them.

Will Bobby’s commentary make the slightest bit of difference to the horde of hungry players eagerly waiting for the 20th of December?

If the Full indicators on the dozens of SWTOR test servers on the weekend are any indication. Not a jot.

With WoW showing some signs of being on the wane, a game like SWTOR that has the potential to grab another couple million WoW subscribers (whether it can hold on to them is another matter) must have Kotick worried. Then there is the Secret World next year, also eagerly anticipated, that could do some damage.

So hence the trolling by Activisions CEO.

Ahh Booby, you’ve done it again!

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