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Keep Your Eye On Crowfall

Crowfall

When it comes to community, crafting, and virtual worlds you can consider me a super-fan. I have written post after post since we started blogging in 2007 about UO and SWG crafting, relying on other players, creating virtual economies, etc.

There’s a new game on the horizon — a tiny speck on the horizon — worth looking at: Crowfall.

There aren’t a lot of details. Lots of little tidbits of info are dropping out there, and some bigger announcements are being teased. Their interview on MMORPG.com caught my attention. Here’s a snippet:

There are a ton of lessons to be learned looking at games like Star Wars Galaxies and EVE Online which had and still have success with their crafting and economic loops. From a very high altitude, crafters need to be able to: craft unique items, explore new recipes and profit from the results of this exploration, and create customized items for all styles of play. Crafters must have an audience to buy their goods. The loop between crafter and combatant has to exist! And, ideally, crafters need to be able to “mark” their product so that they can build a social reputation and a following.

The very concept that players can and will lose their items at some point is required, otherwise the game loop breaks. It is a very controversial topic for those who don’t like the potential of losing their items, and we understand that.  But sometimes you have to embrace ideas that may not be popular at first glance, because they open up amazing areas of gameplay that are otherwise not accessible.

They’re saying the right things. Some of the leads on the team have experience with SWG, UO, Shadowbane, and other older great titles. They’ve brought in Raph Koster as a consultant or sorts to weigh in on the project’s crafting side. Sounds to me like a team looking to hopefully make a game harkening back to the games these guys enjoyed — the same games I keep preaching about.

Here’s hoping!

Streamer Hype

You guys know I’m not a fan of streamers or how they have encouraged horrible marketing trends. Hopping on the streamer hype train and riding it hard is a very clear tell that your marketing team lacks creativity and a deeper understanding of how to build a lasting and dedicated following for your game.

Streamer hype is out of control. Companies fly dozens of them out to their headquarters, load them up on sugar, swag, and free access to the game then set them free. I have my own personal belief that more than a few of their palms are being greased despite Twitch’s supposed rules against it. From what I have heard (and can not find written verification), Streamers are not allowed to take money to speak highly of a game.

The streamer hype credo: Play it if it’s new. Play it if it gets viewers. Act like a buffoon. 

(Okay I added that last part.)

Very few of the streamers who make $10k+ a month are doing so for the love of the games they play. They are doing it because it’s now a job — an awesome job that makes them ridiculous amounts of sponsorship cash. When something risks the cash (like viewer boredom), they jump ship and hop onto the next new/popular game. I don’t fault them for making money, nor do I fault them for playing what they want when they want. Those are their rights and I respect that. I think it’s crap for game companies to abuse it, especially when it’s detrimental to the games.

Most of these streamers have fan clubs that follow them and lick their heels like lovestruck pups. When the streamers jump ship a couple weeks after launch, so do a huge number of players. When the streamers stop broadcasting, suddenly the marketing for that game dries up. Suddenly you start seeing a lot of banner ads and other knee-jerk reactionary marketing tactics to increase visibility. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a true following of players rather than illegitimately inflated numbers?

Streamers getting games for free and playing them to hype everyone up are killing the industry one game at a time. This type of flash-in-the-pan crap is being used to augment early access antics. Toss a dozen streamers free copies of your early access, give them private servers, and ‘encourage’ them to speak highly of your game when launch is less than ideal. I shouldn’t have to say more.

All of that said, let me get one thing straight: I enjoy watching streams. I watch some of the big names like Cohh and Lirik. I find them entertaining at times (albeit sometimes I have to stop watching because they go too far and start acting up for attention). I especially like Lirik who will openly act like a complete dick and decline being a puppet just to be different. It’s his shtick. But he’s definitely a sponsor-whore like the rest. Smaller streams are where you’ll find more of the real fans of the game and less of the hypers. Not always, but it’s reliable.

You and I might be intelligent. We can watch someone playing a game and hyping it all in that moment as super fun and think, “yeah but I wonder what it’s REALLY like…” But Some people watching streams get sucked into the hype and think the game is awesome because their favorite streamer is playing. Their favorite streamer is showing a version of the game that will not resemble their own experience. It’s an illusion.

Using streamers to market your game is asking to be a flavor of the month. If your goal is to grab a bunch of cash in the first 14 days then go for it. If your goal is to attract ‘real’ players who stick around, and you have long-term goals for your game then I recommend you look elsewhere.

Pay 2 Win

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 4 days, you probably saw something about H1Z1’s early-access launch debacle. SOE clearly stated several times that guns, ammo, etc., would not be something players could acquire with real money. They would not be purchasable from the cash shop, yada yada. Turns out that wasn’t entirely true.

In what is now being apologized for as a misspeak by a dev during an interview, SOE is cleverly getting guns into players’ hands via the cash shop … indirectly. Players can buy airdrops with a random chance of dropping these types of items.  The problem with the airdrops was that they were landing too close to where the player ordered them. Supposedly these have been tweaked for balance already.

So yes, players can get guns and ammo from the cash shop. It’s just not a direct option. You can’t go to the cash shop and buy an AR-15 with ammo. You have to order an air drop and hope no one steals it from you. I’ll let you decide for yourself if the semantics matter. Smed and his team are 100% pro-air drop, so unless they change their minds it looks like it’ll stay.

What I love about this entire affair is how hard the community policed the anti-pay-to-win philosophy. Reddit blew up on Smed, players started demanding refunds (to which SOE is currently obliging) and a massive spotlight was shined on some pretty crappy decisions and (maybe) bugs leading to a style of play that isn’t in-line with what players want these days.

If only the community would pick up on the design implications of F2P and police it just as hard. The world would be a better place.

We’re Willing to Pay for Value

Why are MMO gamers perceived as inherently stupid? Before you say, “Because they ARE stupid…” let me explain. MMO gamers are consumers just like everyone else. Consumers want value. The word value is often mistaken for “cheap”.  Value propositions come in all sorts of varieties: more for less, more for more, less for more, etc.

You can charge money for good products. People are willing to pay for something awesome. There’s a reason why Apple is able to charge $600+ for a PHONE and people are lining up and hurting each other just to get their hands on one. They’ve identified what people want, they make it, then they sell it for a premium. Due to their product actually being pretty good, Apple turns their customers into brand champions who then recruit more people to buy Apple products. This isn’t unique to Apple or to any company or industry.

Why do we have to pretend games are free or better yet that they have to be free in order for people to want to play them? MMO gamers are capable of identifying whether a product is worth being paid for or not. A good product will sell. A poor one will not.

When I see a “free” game I immediately wonder what they are trying to hide or what they are trying to accomplish. Are they hiding the fact that they aren’t a good game? Are they trying to hide something nefarious like a pay-to-win cash shop? Are they focusing on simply hooking whales and not on making good game design choices? There’s a reason why that product doesn’t have a price tag. Find it, and you’ll find the flaw.

People are happy to offer money to pay for beta testing a game or getting “Early Access” on Steam. Crowdfunding raised millions for games in 2014.

My lesson for today is that games do not have to be free. Charging for a game is absolutely acceptable, and it won’t dissuade people from playing. What dissuades people from playing is a failure to provide or convey value.

Hero Emblems

hero-emblems-rpgHero Emblems released just four days ago and I have already put in nearly five hours! It’s quickly growing to be my favorite game on my iPhone. I owe all the credit to Graev who found the game on the day it launched, before a single review hit the web, and told me I would be stupid not to get this game that quote, “Feels like the quality of a full 3DS game.”

Hero Emblems is an amalgamation of RPG, sidescrolling, tile-matching, beat’em up games. The basic gameplay revolves around trying to combine tiles to match 3 or more. You can match into different combinations and shapes to drive combos. The purpose of matching is to execute abilities for characters assigned to the tiles you are matching. For example, to execute a basic attack with my sword and shield wielding warrior I need to match three swords. Enemies take their turn to attack based on a simple turn counter, so the combat starts to feel like something out of a Final Fantasy game.

In your party you have a Warrior, Cleric, Paladin, and Sorcerer. Each of these characters executes special attacks based on their skills, Hero Emblems, and the tiles you are matching. Visiting towns allows you to purchase upgrades, or you can find them in chests. Equipping new items actually changes the visual appearance of your characters!

hero-emblems-mapExploring the world is story-driven, but you are free to roam different areas and randomly encounter enemies on the over-world. Roaming back and forth around the map has proven extremely beneficial for me as I have needed to farm coin and levels in order to upgrade my characters before taking on tougher foes.

There are a few tiny flaws. Hero Emblems is available in a couple of languages, but I feel like the native language is Japanese since the english version contains a few odd word choices. I did chuckle when the first boss made a statement about taking an arrow to the knee. Another slight flaw, albeit not really a flaw at all, is the spike in difficulty. The game gets very hard very fast, and requires a lot of thought before simply trying to match just three tiles. There are definite JRPG elements at play here.

Hero Emblems is a full game. For $2.99 you’re getting a game that could easily have launched on the 3DS for $40. I can see spending at least 50+ hours and probably still struggling to make my way through the game. Hero Emblems really does flawlessly execute this style of play on this type of device. I highly recommend it.