How Much Story Is Too Much?

How much story is too much? The topic is once again brought to my mind, this time in a blog post about “The Right Amount of Story” from Steve Danuser aka Moorgard aka #Loregard. Moorgard, who has shown over the years to share my view of what it means to be a virtual world, shares a pearl of wisdom that I wish more people would understand: “As much as creating the tale itself, the role of a narrative lead is to pare the story down to its minimalist core. Part of being a memorable storyteller is being a judicious editor.”

My take on the subject is quite similar, albeit slightly more extreme. If you have to tell me the story at all, you’ve already said too much. Stories should be felt, seen, and experienced — not read. I can think back to games like EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and Ultima Online — games I played for years — and I can’t even begin to tell you what the story is about.

In EverQuest I was just an insignificant speck of a player gaining strength and adventuring through a world ultimately trying to beat back gods who were running amok simply because it was fun to do so. In Dark Age of Camelot I was one out of thousands of players defending my realm against the other realms; I lived to conquer. In Ultima Online I was living in a world with loose rules while trying to gain a leg up in the economy. Even in Star Wars Galaxies, a game with very rich backstory and lore, had such a loose story that I can only remember the story I made for myself as a billionaire chef and entertainer.

Players must be given the tools to create their own story while remaining an insignificant part of a bigger world. That’s key. In every MMO that I remember playing for a long time it was always me being truly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I think just about every MMO I played for 3 months or less had me as the main hero following some prefabricated destiny.

Games needing a story to drive the player forward or give the player purpose are destined to be 3 monthers or less because the player will never have been empowered to continue on their own. MMORPGS built around a story all share one thing in common: The End.

Apartment Hunting Taught Me About MMO Communities

I spent the weekend (and much of last week) once again looking at apartments. In my little corner of SoCal there seems to be a trend. You either have really, really nice (and expensive) or really, really ghetto. We finally found something right in the middle that’s newer and has all of the amenities. Of course, the whole place is at capacity and we’re on the waiting list with a deposit check and application in their office so that we can claim the place the moment a space opens.

While looking at apartments I found myself trying to survive the boredom. What do I do when I’m bored? I compare everything to MMORPGs. I started to make connections between communities for apartments, and communities for MMOs. The communities we looked at all had the same features: Gyms, pools, hot tubs, parking, relatively same floorplans, etc. What varied place to place was the community.

Some of the communities you could tell right away were terrible. The leasing office and staff were unresponsive or unhelpful — even downright rude some places. At others the office staff was so perfect you just wanted to give them a hug. The place we’re wanting to get into always stocks the office with things like water and cupcakes. The community manager is always chipper, informative, and gives off a complete sense of, “I’m here to make your life better.” People in the community seem active yet quiet and mature, friendly, and clean. We’ve gone back several times to look around because we just love the atmosphere.

MMO communities are very similar. An MMO with a good community feels actively ‘managed’. Everything feels like it runs smoothly. When someone voices a concern it’s heard and you feel like you have a representative who will listen. MMOs with great community teams have thriving forums where participants in the community all contribute to keeping things active and inviting. When an MMO has a true community you feel like you belong and like it’s an actual ‘community’ and not like you’re simply occupying a space within a compound.

I’ve noticed a trend toward a lack of community management and involvement. Either people just don’t care, or theres a misconception floating around out there that streaming on Twitch, posting on Reddit, and tweeting are enough. There’s too much broadcasting and too little real interaction going on.

MMOs need qualified community managers and teams. These are NOT PR people meant to spin news. These are NOT forum moderators. These are NOT underpaid lackeys meant to simply generate discussion topics. These are members of the core team who should foster and be responsible for the growth of the community. The community manager should regularly sit in on and meet with the development team and be accountable for ensuring the game’s design is coinciding with the community’s desires.

This is lacking in the industry today. Not enough importance is being placed on it, and that’s yet another contributing factor among many others leading toward the shallow and impersonal experience we now call the MMO genre.

So, much like choosing and living in an apartment, the community can make or break an MMO. The community can be unappealing because it’s full of obnoxious people, or it can simply not exist because it wasn’t well nurtured. In the flip side, the community can be amazing, thriving, and an integral part to why people stick around for years.

Crowfall’s Business Model(s)

crowfall

Buy-to-play with an optional sub. Now that sounds more like it! Crowfall (the game that sorta came out of nowhere with bold statements and no real game to show yet) has announced some of their plans for how they’ll monetize. Basically you buy the game for $50 and that’s it. If you want some perks you can subscribe (like a VIP program) and get the following:

  • “Behind the scenes” access to the development of the game
  • VIP members can use passive training for all 3 character slots (not just 1)
  • Priority access to all game servers
  • VIP frame / badge on the forums
  • Discount pricing on any purchases
  • Other cool (non-balance affecting) benefits as we think of them!

Their cash shop will sell cosmetics and VIP membership tickets. Probably much like the Plex, Credd, etc., systems. I personally do not like these systems. I think it allows the wallet warriors to buy their advantage (in whatever sense of the word), and can be a delicate line to walk in a crafting game. I’ll count myself among the minority here, but I prefer the economy to be entirely immersive and in-game and not extend into the real world, but that’s just me.

What I’m most interesting in seeing here is how they plan to crowdfund. The founders clearly stated they’re going to seek crowdfunding sources, on top of equity and licensing internationally. That right there is my first red flag. Enticing players to give you money just to make the game means you have to give something in return.

Combine all of their monetization and you have crowdfunding, B2P, cash shop, cash-exchange, and a VIP sub. Whew… that’s a dangerous road. Almost as dangerous as their idea for a non-persistent world.

Crowfall remains one to watch. For many, many reasons.

EverQuest Lost

No, that’s not the name of the next EverQuest game. ‘Lost’ is how many of us fans are feeling today.

Big heartfelt condolences go out to the many fine people at Daybreak (SOE) who were laid off. All of the layoffs suck, but to see Steve Danuser and Dave Georgeson and so many of the EQ dev and community teams let go truly pains me. EverQuest lost a huge part of its heart and soul today. You guys and gals did great work. Thank you for your contributions to my favorite franchise.

As a player and fan of these games, the hardest thing to think about in all of this is that anything is possible right now. EverQuest Next could be axed entirely in favor of redistributing all of the newly acquired company’s resources toward me-too games like H1Z1 or something else entirely more appealing to the newly appointed overlords.

Every industry and company has these kinds of days (my own company went through it last week), but I feel like the gaming industry is just so dang volatile lately. I’m starting to think I should stick to marketing outside of games and just be an outsider looking in and enjoying (or trying to) something fun to play.

In a world where success is being dictated by Twitch viewers and how many registered users a F2P game has, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters. Those of us willing should hold fast to our ideals. We know what matters most. We know what works. We know where the future will ultimately end up. How the industry gets there will be… well, on days like today it’ll suck. Maybe it will ultimately crash. Maybe it has to in order to recover and go back.

Again, best wishes to those affected. Please go somewhere and make great games. There are many of us just waiting to play.

It’s Not A Pipe Dream

The gaming industry is so bizarre. I’m looking at news articles this morning and chuckling to myself at everything I see. Peter Molyneux has lied about Godus (to the utter shock of no one) and already moved on to his next game about social media and emotions. Valve apparently forgot that in a voting system people tend to do whatever it takes to get those votes. All around us are Kickstarters, early-access titles, and paid alpha/beta tests.

We’re inundated with false promises, half-baked ideas, and incomplete projects. Every day a new ploy to manipulate how people pay for games is being concocted. What happened to saying you’re going to make a game, making it, then selling it? The industry went from selling complete games to giving them away for free, and now they sell ideas for games that might be in the future. Seriously, what the flippin flyin friar tuck is going on?

I’ve said it a dozen times, but I’ll say it again: I’m willing to pay money for video games. I like my video games to be what was promised, finished, and playable. Why is this exchange of value — such an elementary and fundamental concept — so lost to us?

I can afford to pay more than 99 cents for a game. I’m willing to pay $59.99 + tax.  I don’t want to buy experience boosts or items in a cash shop. I’m willing to spend time killing monsters, exploring the world, and actually playing the game. I don’t need extravagant never-been-done-before ideas to get excited about a MMO. I’ll happily take what was done 15 years ago in a simple game like Ultima Online, or EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, or Star Wars Galaxies. I’m even willing to pay $15/month for continued support and development of the game. I’ll even buy bigger expansions and pay full-retail.

Again, I know I’ve said all of that before. Yet every day we slide a little more. Every month there’s a new early-access or F2P debacle. I’m trying hard to vote with my wallet here. I can’t think of a single time I spent money in a F2P cash shop. I’ve resisted buying early-access games I really want because I don’t want to support that model. I just hope we can somehow see a return to the days when people want good games and developers make good games and both sides are happy. Pipe dream? I really, really don’t think it is.