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Expansions are Barriers to Entry

There’s an interesting quote floating around from Blizz dev Tom Chilton. “By building expansions, you are effectively building up barriers to people coming back. But by including the level 90 character with this expansion, it gives people the opportunity to jump right into the new content.”

On one level I completely agree. I know the feeling of wanting to go back and play a game but feeling too overwhelmed by what I’ve missed in the past. I absolutely love(d) EverQuest 2. Wonderful, wonderful MMORPG. I’ve wanted to go back so much, but every time I download the trial I feel completely lost. A few years ago (gosh probably 4+ now) I went back for the Kunark launch and leveled a Sarnak from 1-65. As I worked through previous expansions, I felt lonely and never saw anyone around. I needed to do that content to level up to see the latest expansion, but ultimately never made it there.

On a different level, I don’t necessarily agree that this is an expansion’s fault or intrinsic to the idea of an expansion. I think vertical progression / development are the issue. If anything, an expansion can be an enticement for players to enter a game or for someone who has been gone for a while to re-enter because there’s more to do and see — essentially the value offering has hopefully increased. This is also because of the problematic nature of focusing on an end-game rather than an entire game or a “living world.”

Offering an instant level 90 in World of Warcraft is a bandaid fix to the problem of having the 1-89 gameplay be worthless. This is a case where we see the symptoms being treated and not the cause. Does this work for WoW? Yeah, it probably does and in fact it’s actually reducing their particular barrier to entry, but not fixing the core issue.

It’s not easy. Balancing character progression while still creating a world that expands the possibilities more horizontally, without boring people from a lack of “things to do,” is one of the most complex and difficult to achieve designs — that’s why we almost never see it happen.

Graev Rant: What happened to licensed games?

aladdin snesA long time ago licensed games used to be pretty bad, like with E.T. on Atari. Maybe some were good, but I don’t really care because I was either not alive or just barely sentient at the time. Later on there was a golden age of licensed games on systems like the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Disney games were almost always great and stuff like Aladdin, The Lion King, and various Micky/Donald games were just awesome. Ninja Turtle games like Turtles in Time and Hyperstone Heist were the shiz. There were Batman: The Animated Series games and even a few decent ones based off of the movies. I think a lot of these games were made by companies like Capcom and Konami which seemed to print gold with every game. Maybe that has something to do with it or maybe I just have a very poor and selective memory of older games.

There were also several great licensed games on later consoles like the N64 and PSX. The Spider-Man games were incredible. Unfortunately I think I just invalidated these while recalling Superman 64. But I’m sure you get the point here. There used to be a lot of quality licensed games. From there it got so much worse so fast to the point where people just wrote off any game based on a movie, tv show, comic, or book. Every now and then there was an anomaly like Chronicles of Riddick and Spider-Man 2 but by and large it was mostly god-awful crap that got churned out. I think this kind of game-mill mentality really hurt Disney’s game image but fortunately that seems to be getting turned around with the release of stuff like Disney Infinity.

I just used to really enjoy the idea of “getting the game after you saw the movie,” if you get my meaning. It’s kind of like the next evolution of buying all of the action figures after seeing a movie, which I imagine probably ends up being a lot more expensive. Nowadays new movies come out and I always keep an eye out for video game tie-ins with the hope that a gem might slip through the crack. Unfortunately they just don’t seem to make too many console licensed games these days. Which may be a good thing depending on your perspective.

But to answer my own question… What Happened To Licensed Games?

Oh, they’re all on phones and tablets. Fantastic.

Warlords of Draenor Could Save Warcraft

The cinematic for World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor was revealed yesterday proving once again that Blizzard is the king of both cinematics and hype.

hellscreamWow! [pun intended] My mind was racing with possibilities after watching. Grommash (Grom) Hellscream was supposed to drink Mannoroth’s blood and bind the Orcish Horde to the Burning Legion. However, it appears to that Garrosh (son of Grom) was able to escape prison and travel back in time to alter events. With Mannoroth dead and the orcs bound to no one, Grom can become warchief of a united orcish horde under the Iron Horde banner.

In a perfect world, this concept could completely wipe out everything we learned from Warcraft 3 and World of Warcraft.  The thought sends nerd chills down my spine! This could be an opportunity to undo many bizarre choices and almost deus ex machina the entire series back to a point where we can have an amazing RTS series again with a story much truer to the heart of Warcraft.

Unfortunately, I think the plan is for Grom and Garrosh to go through the Dark Portal (seen at the end of the cinematic) and invade the MODERN day Azeroth rather than the Azeroth of their time. So technically, this wasn’t a time travel event as much as an alternate dimension or parallel universe. What a horribly wasted opportunity! I want to see an Azeroth where the Iron Horde’s technology (The Kor’kron Iron Star (spinny ball of death thingy)) allows them to conquer most of the Azeroth prior to the events of WC3 and how the world there adapts. Sounds like a great RTS to me.

I consider myself a fan of Warcraft. I don’t like where WoW took (and is taking) the lore, and I’m not a fan of the MMO side anymore, but I’m still an avid fan of the franchise. Hopefully the coming events allow Blizzard to make a darker, grittier, Warcraft focusing less on the touchy-feely-cutesie stuff and more of orcs pillaging and conquering once again!  Warcraft: Orcs & Humans Azeroth! I want to see Warcraft return to its roots.

I have never played a Mega Man game

Until now!

It’s always been my secret shame, and something that I’ve always been embarrassed to admit, but the truth is I have never played a Mega Man game until quite recently. Honestly I blame it on the fact that I owned a Master System rather than an NES and never had a Playstation 1. I should also probably not admit that I haven’t played any of the early Castlevania games but we only have enough time for so much shame.

So how did my first Mega Man experience come about? Why, after all of this, time did I finally play a Mega Man game? Well all through August there is a new Mega Man game being added to the virtual console service on Wii U. So which game was the first one I played?! Mega Man Battle Network! Whaaaat?! An offshoot game? Does that even count? These questions and more must be rushing through your mind but it is in fact the truth. It looked fun so I tried it out and immediately loved it. I have a vague recollection of the cartoon on Saturday mornings, but other than that I went in blind. Basically the game centers around a kid named LAN and his Net Navi named MegaMan.exe. You can jack into various electronics and send Mega Man onto the net and so on. The combat is actually pretty cool too. You move around on a grid in real-time firing your buster at viruses and the like. When your meter fills you can utilize various chips to perform special shots and attacks or other supportive functions. It’s pretty freakin’ sweet.

Some time later I did feel like I owed it to the series to try out the original games. I got my hands on the old Mega Man Anniversay collection and gave it a go. I mean, how hard could it be if kids in the 80′s could beat them? Obviously that’s a completely stupid sentiment since 80′s hard doesn’t just refer to rock music. I never knew how brutal these games could be and my self-respect and self-worth was seriously compromised. After many, many attempts and a lot of swearing I was finally able to beat the first Mega Man game. I wanted to feel excited but knew that there were 9 other games in the original series just left me feeling overwhelmed. I did try out Mega Man 2 but there is only so much ass-kicking I can take. I opted instead to try out the Mega Man X series and I’m actually enjoying the first game a lot. It is very hard but the pretty colors and added features make going back difficult.

So there it is: my first few Mega Man experiences and only a few decades too late. I’m actually a little hooked on the series now and my Amazon cart is stuffed with a few titles. I guess it’s proof that it is never to late to try something new and enjoy it. On the other hand I now feel incredibly depressed that the Mega Man series seems to be pretty dead. At least we will get to see him in the new Smash Bros. game.

Why level so quickly?

I was writing an entirely different post this morning and stumbled upon this rather interesting idea that forced me to stop and think: Why do players always want to level so quickly? If you think about it, that’s really a great question that singlehandedly carries massive influence in a game’s design.

There have been times in the past when I actually wished I could level slower. That seems counter intuitive because we’re conditioned so strongly to want to advance, become more powerful, gain new abilities, and see new locations. We want to chase the carrot. But do we really? I can remember how I felt leaving a dungeon after spending 10 levels there; It’s that pulling feeling attached to that pit in your stomach that longs for you to be able to just stay one more level.

Can MMOs be designed to encourage players to want to slow down? Key there is the ‘want’ since we recently explored ways that developers can force a slower experience. Can there be multiple carrots and the player be allowed to catch one carrot every day and enjoy?

I’m thinking back again to my experiences where I actually didn’t want to level and I think it was because I didn’t want to have to leave what became comfortable and familiar. I like the idea of coming to know a place well and staying there for a period of time. I liked the loot (rare items or currency) and maybe the spot where my group pulled monsters. I think the settings were always nice as well. Perhaps most of all I was scared of moving on. I didn’t know what came next and the comfort I felt was from already having my current situation ‘figured out’.

Old school MMO vets will really ‘get me’ here.  Remember when you leveled in a place and were getting great experience? I can think of a perfect example: Unrest. I stayed there from 16-24. When the moment to grew close and I started thinking about leaving I realized I didn’t know where to go or who I would group with or how quickly I could settle into my new routine. I didn’t want to leave. I wished I could stay there forever. That is the magic.

Moving beyond the ‘feeling’ and psychological side of this discussion, the biggest reason people want to move on so quickly is that MMOs today aren’t designed to really ‘begin’ until the max level. Simple solution: Make the game start at level 1.  Have the game actually be about the leveling. Kids today will probably look at me like I’m trippin on something wack (do kids still say that?). Yep, I’m trippin on the best wack there is: The journey. Leveling should be fun and you should be sad when it ends and want to start a new character or wait until the journey is extended once again.

I’ll continue this discussion in my next entry.