Bring the Player Not the Class

For a while, Blizzard followed a “bring the player not the class” mantra… or tried. Now whether or not they actually stick to this isn’t really what I want to debate. My big question here is why can’t it be both? Why can’t we look to the person who plays their class best AND plays a class that brings something interesting, unique, and needed to a group or raid?

I believe that every class should offer something useful and be so different from the other classes that you can’t so easily bring one over the other. I want to make a distinction here that I’m not saying every class should be mandatory. I’m saying that no class should be at a distinct advantage, and no class should be unwanted. If two DPS classes are both LFG, one should not be at a disadvantage because their DPS is inherently inferior and they offer nothing else to a group but their raw damage output.

Similarly, I don’t think that every class should be an easy ‘push a button and win’ combination. If Rogues are the “best melee DPS”, not every Rogue should be the top DPS. If Clerics offer the best direct heals, not every Cleric should immediately be the best healer just because they play a Cleric.

And lastly, no one class should be able to do everything.  Duh [At least you’d think so.]  Homogenization is a detriment to fun.

TLDR: Balance the classes, please. And while you’re at it let truly skilled players stand out above the rest. Bring the player, AND bring the class, for the RIGHT reasons.

 

The MMO Genre Needs to Shrink

MMO Population Shrinking

Piggybacking on yesterday’s post about classifying games correctly as MMOs or not, the MMO genre exploded around the time on World of Warcraft. MMOs grew so big and so fast that the industry simply was/is unable to support the growth. Contributing in a large way to this perceived growth was the illegitimate use of the term “MMO” being thrown onto any game that happened to be multiplayer. This continued for nearly a decade leaving us with a huge ill-defined mess.

Now things are starting to settle down, realization is setting in, and developers are realizing they can not only make different types of games again (dare I say innovate?) and not have to attach (wrong) labels to sell.

The MMO genre is once again shrinking back down — slowly — to its proper size. MMOs were never meant to be an all-inclusive phenomenon. By their very nature, MMOs are exclusive to a smaller/focused interest group, and we have all witnessed what happens when they mutate to become something that tries to accommodate everyone. Putting this bluntly, there aren’t enough talented developers to go around to support the number of players wanting this many diverse types of impossible designs. Occasionally we see breakthroughs in design, but those moments are rare. Tech advances have been made, but those I attribute to games in general and not exclusively to MMO design.

We’ve ended up with me-too products from second-rate designers and business people driving the ship. Success has shifted away from providing a unique world capturing the hearts and minds of the players into forecasting business models and trying to figure out how to harvest the most fat possible from the fewest number of whales. Plans to keep people playing as long as possible have been swapped out with exit strategies and converting business models to scrap the bottom of the barrel.

This genre needs to shrink and regain just a little bit of its obscurity and niche status again. The greatest advances ever made were done by small teams on niche games with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Would I love it if the genre could still produce games like Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Dark Age of Camelot, The Realm, etc., and still be the size it is today? Of course, but that isn’t possible. People have to stop wanting the “AAA” (I use quotes because the term AAA has become a joke) bloat, and to do that we have to shrink down to the point where we stop being inundated with them. The sentiment is often thrown around that back in the day people had fewer choices, so each game did well. There’s an element of truth to that, but at the same time each game was unique and provided something entirely new; We can’t even come close to that today.

I think I can speak for everyone by saying that we just want fun games to play. As the MMO genre continues to shrink (and it is — slowly), different types of games will be made (and they are). A more focused MMO genre means the opportunity for better MMOs and a more diverse overall gaming industry. That means more fun for everyone.

 

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.

Where is Trion’s head at these days?

I’d say that I’m not sure what to think of Trion these days, except I think I am. In fact, I’m growing more confident in my opinion of them every day. What I don’t understand is where their head is at and why they are making certain decisions which make it easy for people to form such an opinion of them. Let’s take a quick look at their history.

Rift :: 3 monther (later turned F2P and doing decent last I checked). Ultimately “failed” because the me-too product status could not win over the current WoW crowd. Why play Rift when you can play WoW?

End of Nations :: Dead in development. It was a half-baked RTS that tried to turn into an awkward MOBA. I don’t know what End of Nations was, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t either.

Defiance :: Flopped attempt at merging a game with a tv show. It’s… bad.

ArcheAge :: An odd mix of themepark and sandbox elements that never formed the cohesion needed to create a lasting experience. The PvP was ganky, the PvE was boring, and the bugs/cheats/exploits made the game unplayable for most of the people who overlooked or even enjoyed the gameplay.

Trove :: It’s like Minecraft meets MMO meets… I don’t know. It’s a little bit hodgepodge and the production qualify felt off to me. I was hoping for it to be enjoyable, but ultimately I stopped playing because it felt ‘cheap’.

So there’s the history. Lots of half-baked ideas and odd execution and implementation choices. Trion doesn’t seem to be stopping there. They recently announced “Devilian” which not only sounds generic but looks the part as well (as seen on their recent video release below).

Devilian looks like an outdated Asian Diablo clone supposedly containing PvP, MOBA, and MMO elements. Once again it feels like Trion is making/publishing a hodgepodge me-too product way after the expiration date. It simply doesn’t look to be any fun at all.

I hate feeling like I’m bashing on them. I genuinely don’t have the animosity this might portray. I’m simply confused and honestly a little shocked that the ideas are so poor. Here’s a studio with potential that makes one weird choice after another — namely their choice to continue publishing these games coming out of Asia.

Alts and Twinking

When MMOs were still in their infancy — actually, before they were even called MMOs — I used to have a serious problem making multiple characters and struggling to choose which one to play. People called this being an ‘altaholic’ or having ‘altitis’.

Being an altaholic, I was constantly swapping characters without being able to choose which was my favorite. I would play levels 1-10 or 1-20 multiple a dozen times. Eventually, I would settle on a character I enjoyed enough to take to max level or close to it. Every class was so unique and set apart from the others.

I have memories of spending countless hours trading items I accrued on one character to swap them over for items for another. In other words, I was a decked out warrior and I would swap my gear with other players to be a decked out wizard. Often I would make equal or better trades for the same gear. In fact, I think my worst case of altitis was one weekend in EQ where I ended up swapping Druid gear for Monk gear, then to Warrior gear.

I LOVE twinking. What is twinking? I forget the term is practically lost to this generation. Twinking is when you give really good items to a character that would never have been able to obtain those items naturally. In EverQuest it’s like giving a Smoldering Brand, a Short Sword of the Ykesha, Flowing Black Silk Sash, etc., to a level 1. If twinking were really a thing in WoW, it would be equivalent of giving top tier raiding gear to a level 1.

Just this weekend I spent two whole days twinking my Bard. I farmed plat on my Magician, sat in Commonlands tunnel, and auctioned to buy gear. “WTB Mistmoore Battle Drums and Lambent Armor!” I’d have a few trade macros to advertise my interest. I’m almost to the point where I just need a few more pieces for my Bard and he’ll have the best stuff he can wear outside of raiding. The result? He’s WAY more fun to play.

Let’s analyze this for a second:

  • I enjoyed so many different characters that I couldn’t decide which to play
  • My gear was shared across my alts
  • Time spent on some characters was spent to enhance or advance other characters’ gear
  • Playing through the content multiple times wasn’t a deterrent
  • I could trade almost everything

That sounds nothing like the MMOs of today. MMOs today are the antithesis of such features. Often only one class is interesting since they’re all the same, gear is bind on pickup, content is so linear and exact that playing twice is mundane, twinking is unnecessary since everything is ridiculously easy, and economies are almost non-existent.

While not something I can simply point to an say, “Do this and your MMO will be great,” it’s definitely something worth noting. Isolating what we like(d) about the past games and trying to see how those features or systems intermingled with the rest of the game’ design can really shed some light on how we’ve lost a lot of depth and meaningful gameplay in today’s MMO designs.