Call a spade a spade

Destiny is not a MMO

I completely disagree with Rob Pardo’s recent statements to Develop.

“If anything, I think people are even avoiding the term MMO. A really good example is Destiny. It clearly is an MMO. But they’re really trying to avoid calling it that, and obviously it is a very different type of game. But I think that’s a good example of how with MMOs, the term has been eliminated. But you kind of continue to see the influence in games that are persistent world games that have spawned out of that. It’s just people seem to avoid the term MMO now.”

I haven’t seen a decrease in the misuse of MMO terminology. In fact, Pardo proves my point right here. Destiny is not an MMO. I’m playing Destiny right now with Graev. This is a multiplayer co-op game — a well-built one at that. Max “group” size is three players, dungeons are auto-matched, and you can’t communicate with anyone other than the other 2 people in your group via voice comms. Destiny plays no different from Borderlands other than creating an easier online interface for people to join up. There is no “MMO” here. This is a fun multiplayer shooter.

Player expectations matter. Yes, calling your game a MMO will set expectations. Yes, the label will draw comparisons to previous MMOs. That is how it works universally, not just with MMOs. Want to avoid the comparison? Not making an MMO? Then don’t call it one! That’s why Activision didn’t call Destiny a MMO — not because the term is “poison,” but because Destiny simply isn’t one!

Insinuating that SWTOR and WildStar flopped because they were called MMOs and thus were forced to draw comparisons to World of Warcraft shows a complete lack of understanding. The bigger picture matters: Those games were not fun. Their fate was sure to be the same regardless of their genre or their label.

Flip this around for a second. What if someone releases an MMO and doesn’t call it one? Let’s actually take WildStar as an example. If NCSoft/Carbine called WildStar a “Cooperative online universe” and never once alluded to it being an MMO what do you think would happen? They would never have heard the end of, “WTF! This is just a WoW clone themepark! Evil marketing people!”

This entire discussion can and should be distilled down to setting and tempering customer expectations. Say you’re making the game you’re making, and make the game you’re saying you’ll make.

Having Fun on EverQuest 2’s Progression Server

EverQuest 2 Time-locked Expansion Server

Continuing the ride the wave, Daybreak opened up two more progression servers last week, but this time the servers are for EverQuest 2. I chose to play on the PvE version rather than subject myself to PvP, and rolled up a Gnome Necromancer.

A little bit of my EQ2 Background…

I played briefly when the game launched. Graev was much more into it, but even he only lasted a few months. About 6-8 months after launch I went back and played EQ2 for roughly a year. Fast forward a couple years later and I dabbled in Echoes of Faywder but didn’t stick. I came back for Kunark and ended up playing for about 6 months. Ultimately I ended up with a 50 Monk, 55 Shadowknight, and 50 Brigand. Back then, that wasn’t bad.

Newb again

Logging back in for the first time two days ago, you’d think I never played the game. Everything was either different or my memory is getting horrible. Eventually I figured out the UI, found the dozens of settings windows to tweak the game to be just how I want it, and set out once again into Norrath (albeit a fragmented version).

You’ve probably seen me in-game (guess my name) asking dozens of questions. Last night I was trying to figure out crafting which has radically changed from back in the day, and is still quite different from other crafting systems despite being (I think?) dumbed down from what it was in 2005 when I last crafted. I think the system now just required me to match the symbols when they pop up? Is that right?

Feels good to return to a game that I literally played more than any other MMO released in the past 10 years and feel like a newb again.  [Read more…]

Reevaluating MMOs

Let me begin by saying that MMOs are absolutely subject to review upon launch. I do not personally give MMOs a score per se, but I will loosely review them based on whether or not they are fun, and provide a running commentary so that people can get a feel for how long it takes for the game to no longer be fun.

I’m seeing a lot of people drinking the kool-aid out there when it comes to MMOs “relaunching” or “rebranding” or whatever they’re being incentivized to call it.

What is “launch?” 

Launch is the minute you start taking people’s money and allow them access to your game. I don’t care what your marketing team chooses to call it; If you take people’s money and you let them play then your game is live, launched, and subject to review.

In speaking about the first iteration of Marvel Heroes being a flop, here’s what David Brevik gives as advice for how to minimize your failure.

If you don’t feel like you’re quite there, my second tip is that you should almost always, almost under every circumstance, launch as a beta. I think our biggest mistake was the fact that we didn’t launch with the beta tag. If we had done that, people would have been much more forgiving. – David Brevik, Gazillion CEO

I’m rolling my eyes over here.

Getting people to give you a second chance.

MMOs are, or at least should be, an evolving experience. I am absolutely in favor of continually evaluating and reevaluating MMOs. How you get people to do that can come in many forms, but here are a few obvious ones.

Annualizing

Annualizing your product is one way to do it, but it will absolutely cheapen your MMO in the eyes of the consumer. Marvel Heroes (the aforementioned flop) “relaunched” or “rebranded” as Marvel Heroes 2015. They spent a truckload marketing the game as having changed, timed it with a few movie releases, etc., etc., and raised their metacritic score. Cool. Now they’ll release Marvel Heroes 2016 and so on. The gimmick of slapping on a new year to the end and running banner ads won’t change the game itself, but it will probably get starving news sites to spam your message on point and smother their sites in your ad wraps.

Expansions

The age-old tradition of launching lots of new content at all once, most likely bundled into some theme, has worked for decades. Whether it’s every 6 months or every few years, expansions always get people to pay some kind of attention to the game. Expansions are often used to try and justify people staying on and continuing to play the game. However you monetize, the goal is to keep people playing and providing more content will do that. Expansions work best when people already liked you, and you have to get them to come back and continue caring about you. World of Warcraft is the perfect example.

Massive Patches and Overhauls

Occasionally we see a game undergo a massive overhaul or patch to change something that wasn’t quite working. I look at EQ2 as an example of how a game can launch, not resinate, then radically undergo change and definitely improve. When EQ2 launched it was seriously hardcore and quite honestly too cumbersome to really stick with it. The user experience was improved, the game became more fun, and I played it for 2 years. Then they radically overhauled AGAIN to be Free to Play, and I’m pretty sure that brought even more people back.

Burn it Down and TRULY Start Over

FFXIV is the epitome of launching absolute garbage, putting a stop to it entirely, and starting over. The result was (comparably) amazing. Relative to their original release, FFXIV: A Realm Reborn is a phenomenal game.

Whatever the reason, even if none of the above, we can continue to look at MMOs and ask ourselves, “Has this game improved?” No amount of marketing or fixing a bug will change the fact that you still have the same product — maybe now it just works a little bit better or lasts a little bit longer or looks a little nicer.

MMOs deserve the scores and/or reviews they get at launch, and no amount of renaming a product or trying to start over is going to change the fact that you get only one first impression. (Special note for Mr. Brevik: People don’t care if it’s called a “beta.”) Realize that second chances ARE possible, but they will always be relative in success to your first impression. The secret to success isn’t in how to spin the next five years. Simply make your game fun, entertaining, and polished. Avoid having to battle for a second chance at all.

Designing the Right MMO for the Right Audience

The recent news of Smed being let go lured Brad McQuaid out to drum up a little bit of noteworthy conversation. Brad wrote a few articles on his Pantheon blog (one of which he cut and paste in the comments of my Smed post) that I think are definitely worth a read.

The gist of his sudden onset of hypergraphia boils down to the very debate I have been having on this blog for the past 8 years: There are still people like me out there who want to play the same kinds of games we used to play, and our interests or tastes in MMOs haven’t changed. We aren’t too small to matter.

Brad summed up part of the problem:

Debate as to whether these newcomers are the only true audience now, or arguing that the ‘old school’ games were better, or more truly an MMO, is really unnecessary and unproductive.  There’s nothing to win here, nothing to be proven, nothing that has to be protected, and also no need to declare one style or design somehow, magically, obsolete.  Unfortunately, some behind some of the newer games that failed to retain subscribers, many of whom then intelligently switched their revenue model, have also (for whatever reason) proclaimed that their failure to retain gamers is because that gamer no longer exists, that the gamers who want to play long term, involve themselves with the community, and to work together in groups and guilds are gone now, or radically different.

I will disagree with Brad about there being nothing to prove. If there were nothing to prove then we would have MMOs being developed to match his solution (see quote coming up below). At every turn we are seeing MMOs come and go, and every time a game fails it’s because “that kind of game isn’t wanted anymore” or “people have changed.”

The problem rests with taking a business model that worked with one design targeted at a specific type of players and applying the same business model to a completely different design aimed at trying to target all sorts of different players.

The future I believe are MMOs that have identified and targeted specific audiences.  Like with any space that has grown tremendously and become much more diverse, developers need to adapt as well and make great games for these gamers but also be ok with this reality: several diverse yet successful games can co-exist, each with different mechanics and features and content.  Likewise, if you make a good game, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to like it.

That is the key right there, and that is what players like me have been trying to prove.  I’m not one of the people saying that MMOs were better and every MMO should be like the old MMOs. While I do believe that older MMOs were better, I also believe that newer MMOs offer something that tons of people enjoy.

For example, if you enjoy SWTOR or WildStar then more power to you. A game like SWTOR or WildStar exist for people who want a game like SWTOR or WildStar. To say that because these two games “failed” means that MMOs are unwanted, or that the model/design these games originally tried to follow is obsolete, is unequivocally false. I’ll refer you to my comment above about using the wrong business model and wrong design for the wrong audience.

MMOs of all types should absolutely exist. And there IS a battle to be fought here for fair representation in the marketplace. Those wanting a group-centric social virtual world with devoted crafters and some edge of difficulty shouldn’t be relegated to failed Kickstarters and small teams with barely enough funds to hire decent artists. Similarly, those wanting a themepark or something more arcade-like shouldn’t be stuck with the McMMO budget games run by poor leadership destined to go F2P.

Age of Empires Castle Siege on Windows and iOS

Age of Empires Castle Siege Review

Microsoft Studios continues their experimentation in different business models and applications with Age of Empires Castle Siege, the latest entry into the AoE franchise.

This time around, Age of Empires has been adapted to fit what I have coined the ‘time waster’ model. Essentially it’s a full game, but actions are gated behind time sinks. Building a barracks will take just a few minutes, but upgrading that barracks to be able to build your next units may take 10 hours. Gathering resources plays a huge part in time waster games, and that mechanic is ever-present in Castle Siege. Have you played games like Clash of Clans, Star Wars Commander or similar games? If yes then you already know how to play Age of Empire Castle Siege.

Your Kingdom Can’t Run on an Empty Stomach

ResourcesGameplay is centered around building up your kingdom whether it be Briton, Teutonic Knight, or any of the other popular civilizations. To do so, you need three things: Apples, Wood, and Stone. Acquiring these three resources is done with buildings that generate the resource over time then storing them in another building. Each of these buildings (generators and storage) can be upgraded to generate faster and store more.  It’s simple and easy to manage in Castle Siege. [Read more…]