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I Hope Massively Shuts Down

Massively is shutting down — hopefully. If I just caught you off-guard then allow me to explain why I won’t be disappointed and even look forward to the day when Massively is gone.

My biggest issue with Massively, and why this is personal, started back when they were still in their infancy. Some of their writing staff (who I will not name, but they know exactly who they are) thought it would be a good idea to post columns and discussion topics taken almost 100% straight from this blog. That’s right, they cut and paste and completely ripped content from me. It took several emails to their managing editor at the time for them to respond with a simple, “I’ve spoken to the writers and they won’t do it again.” I don’t like thieves.

Syncaine, a fellow blogger, often openly criticizes massively for what I consider my second biggest issue: They have ‘mass media’ opinions. In other words, they’re often full of crap and have no idea what they are talking about. The clickbait and deleting topics when they are wrong rather than retracting is one thing. But for the most part, their writers have no experience with the subjects they are writing about, and often I wonder if they even play the games.

Massively is mass media. Game devs love the eyes it brings to their press releases. Massively loves the ad revenue the game devs bring them. It’s a relationship rarely designed to actually benefit the real gamers unless you seek nothing but ‘mostly accurate’ (and oft spun) news. What bothers me most about this is that Massively breeds ‘argumentum ad populum’ or ‘appeal to the masses’. It’s the fallacious argument that just because lots of people believe it then it must be true.

Massively gets attention because it doesn’t question (unless questioning brings more visitors and revenue). Game devs will fly massively ‘reporters’ out to their HQ or give them exclusives because they know that Massively will deliver the message on-point. Think about it: Would you rather have your game seen by 50,000-100,000 people and have the message be the one you crafted or have it seen by 5,000-10,000 people and have the article be from someone who will give an honest opinion? That’s Massively vs. K&G and other blogs or smaller outlets. I do not mean to villainize game devs or Massively for doing this — it’s business. It makes sense. However, as a result, sites like Massively grow to become the aficionados and given incredible amounts of respect for having so much developer interaction. It has always felt like a ruse to me, but that could also be because I wrote for IGN for a few years and I know exactly how that relationship works. That’s why I left and started this blog.

As always, I want to make sure something is made clear. A few of Massively’s past writers had some passion and experience actually playing the game they purported to write about. For example, Karen Bryan did a nice job writing about the family side of gaming, and I know she was always passionate about EQ2. I won’t condemn all of the writers at Massively, but most of them probably haven’t even played more than one MMORPG, if that.

So I picked on Massively a lot. That’s because they’re an easy target and topical. I can think of plenty more sites just like them. They straddle the line between news and opinion, and their opinions are forced to change to align with what will bring more eyes to their news and exclusives.  It’s frustrating to see hundreds of thousands of people turn into sheeple and believe what they read because they saw it on sites like Massively.  That’s why I won’t shed any tears when the big ‘gaming journalism’ sites topple.

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!

Ever-evolving and Changing Worlds…

MMORPGs are the ever-evolving and changing worlds. At least that’s what they used to be. That was a major selling point back in the 1999-2006 era. We would purchase an MMO, subscribe, and play a game knowing that it was going to keep growing and changing over the years.

Now MMOs have a number of issues keeping them from ever being an ever-evolving world. They might be a 3 monther without any sort of vision or a F2P title with design goals aimed at increasing cash shop sales rather than increasing things to do in-game.

I find myself remembering back to the day where I was happy to pay money — subscription or otherwise — because I was paying for the game to keep growing and developing. Now the same concept feels more like I’m paying for them to fix the game. The difference between fixing the game and growing the game is one word here in a blog post but massive in its repercussions for gameplay and the experience in a game.

MMOs are launching in a state of disarray. When was the last time you played a MMO at launch that felt truly ‘done’ or ‘ready’? For most people the answer will be a resounding, “Never!” Features are missing, bugs are prevalent, content is underwhelming, character development is non-existent… I mean seriously, some games launch as the next big raiding game and don’t even have a single raid in the game at launch.

Am I okay paying to fix a game? That’s the questions we must ask ourselves in 2015. That’s a question that sadly reaches even beyond the MMO genre and into anything asking players for money before it is complete.

Returning to the idea of ever-evolving and changing worlds, it has become clear that MMOs are being designed on a ‘start to finish’ plan. The entire picture is being sketched out on some dry-erase board somewhere and put into a design document. “Our players will start at level one, quest to level 50, do some dungeons, raid, then we’ll launch more raid dungeons and pvp gear options to keep them playing.” I just summarized the last 10 MMOs in one run-on sentence, and some people are being paid huge salaries to come up with that crap.

Launch a world that grows organically. That can only be done when a virtual world is created and control is handed off to the players. Development should only be loosely planned by the developers and flexible enough to adapt to the dynamic nature of real life. If your design doc is so rigid that it can’t accommodate change then you’ve likely built yourself a me-too MMO that will last for 3 months before the pattern is figured out and people quit. You’ll have bored us before we even could play long enough to get bored.

If your world isn’t ever-evolving and changing then, in my opinion, you’re not really a true MMO. You have a shell of a product with no soul or sustainable direction. If you’re charging a subscription for this shell then you’re the reason people think the sub model is bad. If you’re F2P then you’re one of two things: (1) Still trying to prove the model actually works, or (2) Building a business model instead of building a game. I think it’s smarter to just go back to how the industry got started.

Problems with The Repopulation’s Business Model

The Repopulation is the latest MMO craze. It’s the upcoming “crowdfunded” sci-fi sandbox being heralded as a SWG-like. The sandbox nature and especially the crafting are being lauded as huge reasons to jump in and buy the game. Oh, you thought the game was free? It will be. Sort of. It’s another one of those early-access grabs where the game is already available for purchase and you can get early access and lots of “account perks” if you sign up now. Do I sound jaded? I am.

I’m not at all convinced that The Repopulations free-to-play model will work. It’s not the fact that they’ll have a cash shop. It’s the types of things they’re brushing off as no big deal. Below is the FAQ from the official website.

Will The Repopulation Require a Subscription?
No. It will be a Free To Play title with income being generated from an in-game cash shop and optional one-time membership fees.

What Will Be In the Cash Shop? Will It Be Pay To Win?
We will not be Pay To Win. It is our feeling that free players are an important part of the user base and they add to the community. We don’t want those players to feel that they are at an unfair disadvantage just because they haven’t paid. While there may be things like skill gain increase boosts, we’re looking at lower increases than the 100%+ than has become standard in modern MMOs. We also don’t plan on adding items of power, such as potent armor, weapons or fittings. We do feel that players should earn whatever they get. That having been said, we do have to generate revenue in some way.

So what does that leave?
Account perks for one. Things like extra bank, inventory or character slots. Cosmetic items such as different armor or weapon looks. Non-combat oriented cosmetic or convenience items such as new hairstyles or furniture may also be available. We’ll explore and adjust as necessary.

Here’s what comes with the early-access membership levels:

earlyaccess

Let’s first look at the surface level issues.

  • Skill Gain Increases – These go against the nature of a game where you are supposed to earn skills by PLAYING. Playing means you interact with other players. Interacting with other players means you build a community.
  • More Bank Access – This type of game is all about inventory control. This becomes a must-purchase for any serious player. Must-purchases in a F2P game are the first sign of a poorly designed business model and great indicator of a game destined to fail.
  • More Character Slots – Another huge fail. SWG restricted players to one character. One character means you developed a single character and had to choose how you would interact with the rest of the population. This created interdependencies. This was INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT to the game’s overall design.

Now let’s look at one of the biggest issues most people will miss completely: Selling Cosmetic Items.

Who here remembers SWG well? Remember how entire paths of playing revolved around creating cosmetic items? Clothing was everything. Clothing, for the most part, added no stats. It was a way to look cool. Entire player malls were set up to sell cosmetic items to give you that look you wanted. Whether you were a slave dancer who wanted something risque or a professional who wanted a tux, it was sought after by the players. Image Designers changed your look, hair color, etc. So much of SWG was cosmetic, and it was all tied to the real players spending their time to help other real players obtain this as a good or service. A game like The Repopulation needs control of character customization in the hands of the players.

Simply adding cosmetics to the cash shop in a game like The Repopulation isn’t simple at all; it’s game breaking. If this is their avenue for generating long-term revenue for the game then only a fool would think it’s as shortsighted as a few minor items.

The Repopulation needs to be a buy to play game. They need a box price. They need a pre-order bonus with items you can hang on the wall of your house to show you are special. This doesn’t have to be a subscription game to succeed, but it is already destined to fail if they follow this F2P model without the utmost care. Right now I see a recipe for a game destined to fizzle out in less than a year.

Looking Back on 2014

This year was bizarre. Seriously the strangest year I’ve had in gaming in as long as I can ever remember touching a keyboard or controller. There were highs and lows like every year, but this year brought about personal paradigm shifts and even some which may apply to the entire industry.

MMOs

2014 goes down as the worst year in MMO history. Didn’t we say that last year? Let’s evaluate.

  • Elder Scrolls Online: Failed
  • WildStar: Failed
  • ArcheAge: Failed

Each failed for very different reasons, and each were completely avoidable by anyone who really understands what gamers want in a MMORPG. For the past eight years I have penned my ideas about making MMOs great right here on this blog. These have become my personal annals of MMO virtue. I look back at what we (you the readers included) have come up with and I cringe at what those who do this for a living create. Why are these two thing not aligned, and how can we change that? (I’m open to starting something, email inquiries welcome!)

The paradigm shift I alluded to earlier is that I am no longer stuck in the mindset that I have to play every MMO. I played TESO for a few weeks, Wildstar for a few days, and I never even picked up ArcheAge. I haven’t played a MMO for the past six months. That would have been completely inconceivable to me last year. I no longer feel compelled to settle for or try mediocrity. My standards are set for what I will put up with, and if something isn’t truly appealing to me then I’m fine sitting back and waiting.

Interestingly enough, I think I’m not alone in that. I’ve always felt I have a feel sense for the pulse of the industry. I feel many others are in the same mindset as I am, and that a huge chunk of the potential pool of MMO players is simply sitting here idle without a game to play. The real question now is how do you capitalize on that without waiting until 2017?

MMOs on the Horizon

The horizon looks bright. Very, very bright. But it’s still so far off.

  • Camelot Unchained – At least a year? Something beyond a tech demo should be playable in 2015. They’ve made progress, and our friend Mark Jacobs has been incredibly forthcoming and open with the community about where they are taking the game. They’ve said all of the right things. They just have to execute a high-quality product.
  • EverQuest Next – We won’t see it until 2016 at the earliest. For now it remains nothing more than a tease, but it’s EverQuest and I will drool over it incessantly until it’s here.
  • The Repopulation – Looks to be very much a SWG-type. I have modest hopes for it to rekindle some of the love I’ve had for sandbox games.
  • H1Z1 – Not a MMO, but they like to call it one. Perhaps it may mutate into some type of MMO hybrid. Nevertheless, I am interested. We should hopefully see this sometime early 2015.

Pre-Early-Alpha-Restricted-Unfinished-Half-Assed-Access

Oh the joys of whatever you want to call this crap. This has actually gone from being a neat way to build hype and mutated into a business model. I know exactly how it happened. I’m part of the problem. We the ever-impatient gamers buy ourselves into the ability to play sooner, and it all snowballed from there.

I’m torn on whether or not early access is inherently evil or simply executed poorly. Could the idea still work if handled ethically and with the player’s best interests at heart? I think so. Sorta. Maybe we’ll revisit this one in 2015 when the half-dozen already announced games with early access open their doors. For now, this model blew up in the face of 2014 gamers.

Console Games

The year for console gaming seemed fairly good. We had games like Dark Souls 2, Dragon Age Inquisition, Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros, and several more. I even received my very own Wii U for Christmas (thanks Santa!) and will soon get a PS4 as well. I’m excited at the prospects of playing console games with Graev!

Indie Games

Remember when Indie games were like the under dogs and had unquestionable support from everyone? I think that’s starting to fade. Indie games are now more prevalent, and in my eyes no longer get a free pass. You can’t make crappy games and get away with it. You can’t screw people (early access) then walk away from a project. Indie game dev or big publisher dev, you’re both accountable to the players.

Lots of good indie titles came out in 2014. Everything from Divinity: Original Sin to Shovel Knight. Kickstarter has given rise to many opportunities. Great ones like The Repopulation and Camelot Unchained. Horrible ones like Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, and a few with the jury still out like Shroud of the Avatar. We shall see what 2015 brings the indie devs.

Other Games and Entertainment

Mobile Games

My faith in mobile gaming has increased this year. I’ve seen some amazing things on the iPhone and Tablet. Games like Hearthstone are coming to the iPhone in early 2015, and are already available on iPad and Android tablets. Other games like Seabeard have shown me that an experience matching or exceeding that of the 3DS is possible, but remains unexecuted. This year was a huge leap forward in progress for these devices — at least for my own personal take on them. I’m eager to see what 2015 brings.

Board Games

My love of board games and card games has increased this past year. I picked up several for Christmas including Ticket to Ride Europe, Dominion, Shadows over Camelot, Munchkin, and Small World. We’ve played through many of them already, and have enjoyed them all.

Personal Life

One of the best ways to pass the time during a gaming slump is to get engaged and plan a wedding. I got engaged in September, and I’ll be married in March of next year. I couldn’t be happier to find something that matters more to me than video games. She’s way more dynamic, much more sandbox, and has the best daily quests. Alright, I admit that was a wee bit cheesy. In a strange way she’s taught me to value gaming more. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I know that when I play games I have more fun. It’s kinda cool.

Coming Up

I have a few more posts planned for the end of 2015. I’ll look back at my favorite game(s) (this is going to be hard), announce my goals for the new year, and talk about a few upcoming games I’m excited to play.