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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!

Pay 2 Win

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 4 days, you probably saw something about H1Z1’s early-access launch debacle. SOE clearly stated several times that guns, ammo, etc., would not be something players could acquire with real money. They would not be purchasable from the cash shop, yada yada. Turns out that wasn’t entirely true.

In what is now being apologized for as a misspeak by a dev during an interview, SOE is cleverly getting guns into players’ hands via the cash shop … indirectly. Players can buy airdrops with a random chance of dropping these types of items.  The problem with the airdrops was that they were landing too close to where the player ordered them. Supposedly these have been tweaked for balance already.

So yes, players can get guns and ammo from the cash shop. It’s just not a direct option. You can’t go to the cash shop and buy an AR-15 with ammo. You have to order an air drop and hope no one steals it from you. I’ll let you decide for yourself if the semantics matter. Smed and his team are 100% pro-air drop, so unless they change their minds it looks like it’ll stay.

What I love about this entire affair is how hard the community policed the anti-pay-to-win philosophy. Reddit blew up on Smed, players started demanding refunds (to which SOE is currently obliging) and a massive spotlight was shined on some pretty crappy decisions and (maybe) bugs leading to a style of play that isn’t in-line with what players want these days.

If only the community would pick up on the design implications of F2P and police it just as hard. The world would be a better place.

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.

Camelot Unchained Class Q&A with Mark Jacobs

Mark Jacobs and the team working on Camelot Unchained have released their very first class design document. This information comes as part of their goal to have a transparent design and development process. With this first class document — The Viking Warrior Class (Drengr) — comes information on a major part of the class system called Paths.

We were able to ask Mark a few questions about the design document. As always, the questions we ask when we interview a dev (even a friend like Mark) are the ones we want answered most — even if it means throwing a few tough ones in there — and the questions we feel our readers care about. If you have additional questions for Mark please feel free to leave a comment. He reads what you have to say and might even comment himself.

Keen: In the Path system you have stated that going down a ‘path’ unlocks ‘achievements’ and that they are entirely (or majorly) cosmetic type stuff. To be 100% clear for our readers, is it right then to assume that choosing a Path is not a means to unlock new abilities like Thor’s Lighting Smash Attack, but instead would be something more like ‘because you use crushing attacks you now glow purple and red with lightning and blood’?

Mark Jacobs: That’s exactly how it’s supposed to work! You just explained it better than I did the first time, when we presented the document to our Internal Testers for their initial review.

Keen: The path system seems like a clever way of disguising levels. “Looking for a Drengr with x Thor milestones” sounds like a spiced up way of saying, “Looking for a level X warrior with DPS spec”. I know that I have oversimplified this for the sake of asking this question, but is this the overall intention of the path system — to create a means of giving players a way of stating what kind of character they have built?

Mark Jacobs: Once again, you are correct, but with one slight modification. Since we don’t really have a vertical leveling system, but rather a horizontal one, I would describe it more like “Looking for a DPS warrior who has unlocked Thor’s Lightning Smash Attack, Mjolnir’s Revenge, Goldilocks for the Win! (just kidding), etc. With the Path system, identifying yourself when you are LFG becomes just a wee bit easier.

Keen: Path Banes and Boons (PB&B) seem to completely contradict the idea that a path does not unlock talents or skills, etc — especially if non-optional. It’s one thing to use a hammer and get better with a hammer, but another to use a hammer with the intent to unlock PB&B’s. Can you clarify how these banes and boons can exist within this path system and not play a major (if not complete) role in the choice?

Mark Jacobs: That was one of the points I discussed with the IT folks on our Forums. Now, if those B&B unlocks could be achieved by non-Path players, it works out fine. In that case, the B&Bs would be tied to amount of time in-game, power, or some other condition(s) that would track across all Paths. But, as you say, if the B&Bs are tied solely to progression along the Path, that might be a problem. That’s one of the reasons my initial thought was to have these B&Bs open to all Drengr, and not tied only to Path progression. This is definitely one of those points that we are going to be in deep discussion internally as well as with our Backers over the next few months and beyond.

Keen: There seems to be a lot of progression elements for the player to focus on: Weapon choice, skill usage, skill crafting, runes, banes, boons, potential skill degradation, bonding, stats, and now paths. (Did I miss anything?) Are paths meant to be a way of organizing all of these things to give the ‘general populous’ their path of least resistance to a play style by providing a common denominator?

Mark Jacobs: That’s the beauty of the horizontal system we are trying to build here. We can’t rely on the traditional verticality of leveling systems to give the players more and more powerful stuff as they progress in the game. OTOH, if we have a lot of different ways that players can progress, we can always keep adding small things to the game without breaking Rule #1 for Camelot Unchained, which is that new players have to be able to be competitive in RvR from day one.

As far as them being a path of least resistance, I would agree, but not just for the general populace. If we can create really cool and interesting classes and Paths, then even some harder-core players might be immediately attracted to one or more of them. With the mostly open-ended nature of the class/Paths, they could start their adventures in our game focused on one Path, and then tweak their build as time goes by.

Keen: I can’t help but think of old school Ultima Online here. You have a skill cap of sorts with the potential to choose any combination of skills. You can max out a few or dabble in several to build whatever type of character you want. Back in the day, players used to give names to certain combinations of skill point allocations: Dexxers, Hally Mages, etc. Despite the fact that non-cookie cutter FOTM builds were great, people seemed to always go for these templates. Are you worried that players will identify too closely with a ‘build’ thus reducing the perceived ‘openness’ of Camelot Unchained’s character system?

Mark Jacobs: I hope not. The fact that we will not have cheap and easy respecs will certainly limit the FOTM builds, but as you point out, that’s not the only possible problem. I do think that some players will perceive certain builds as being “the” build for certain situations, but if we have enough Components in the game, and in turn enough varied and distinct abilities, that won’t be as much of a problem (we hope). Keep in mind that without PvE, and with large-scale battle and sieges being a huge part of this game, I think it will make choosing the “best build” a bit more difficult. OTOH, if our Backers and players are happy with a “best build” tradition, then that works too.

Keen: Do you hope that most players will use and embrace the path system or create their own sub-class?

Mark Jacobs: A mixture of both would make me very happy. If our Backers and future players think that the Path system and the classes we create are worthwhile, then that alone will mean that we have done a good job. If, after playing the game for a while, we have a mixture of heavily focused class/Path combos as well as player-made combos, and players are happy (as per above), then that would work for us too. As I’ve said since I created my first online game, no matter how smart we think we are, the players will always have their own opinions, and will also be, at times, smarter than us. We just have to try to create a great system, and then react based on what we see, hear, and experience as we and they play the game. That is one of the reasons we are releasing this document now, as well as why we plan on having much longer Alpha and Beta test periods, with a much larger group of Backers/players than most other MMORPGs have.

As always, thanks to Keen and Graev for this interview and support of this and other games I’ve been fortunate enough to work on over the decades.

Thank you Mark for taking the time to answer our questions!

Be sure to read the Viking Warrior Class Design Document for more information.

H1Z1 Early Access Commentary

SOE was building up to yesterday’s H1Z1 announcement with a modest level of hype. Lots of “It’s coming!” and “Soon®©™” and “Be sure to tune in for our live stream and reddit stuff!” I’m looking forward to H1Z1 as much as the next person… I thought. Some people are flipping tables and spitting as they scream about the “six week delay” before the early access begins. Once again we are faced with an early access situation that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

From the mouth of Smed:

“Is it going to be a finished game? Absolutely not. If that’s what you’re expecting, DO NOT BUY EARLY ACCESS. The goal here is to let you in early and help us mold it into a game you want to be a part of for quite a long time.” [Source]

Before I jump into a devil’s advocate discussion here, let me preface this by saying I get exactly what they are doing. Deep down you do too. This is marketing. This is business. The sooner everyone realizes this, accepts it, and moves on, the better. Most of us interested in H1Z1 will buy early access or wait until it is free. I certainly will. It sounds like a ton of fun. Okay, now that the grownup version is out there, let’s chat.

I find it fascinating (from the perspective of a player and a human being and not a demon from the business realm) that this idea of selling early access to a game is done with such a hot potato style. This is how I read it all: “Get excited about our unfinished game, but don’t buy it okay? But maybe you should…. but just know it’s not done… but please pay $19.99 now isntead of waiting for it to be free. Oh and if you want more game modes we’ll charge you more. BUT DON’T BUY IT! Seriously, don’t buy it (but please do).”

Here’s another interesting spin from Smed:

“Is H1Z1 going to be better than Day Z day 1? No it won’t. We’ll get asked that question a lot and I wanted to be up front about it. We’re not as feature rich and they have a lot of really cool stuff we just don’t have yet. That being said, we’re also a different game. We’re an MMO and our goals are to create a large scale world that gives you the incredible feeling of being a survivor in a zombie apocalypse.”

Downplay downplay downplay PLAY IT UP PLAY IT UP PLAY IT UP! We’re back to the hot potato. “We’re probably not going to be as good so don’t buy us on Steam for $19.99 January 15, 2015 Click here for more info to get you excited!” Huh.

Another angle begging for commentary here is this idea that you charge more money to let people test more game modes. On one side of the coin it makes sense to charge more for more features. I can sorta accept that. On the other side we have reality where this is an alpha or a beta and people are being given a pay wall to participate in what is being publicized as an opportunity to work alongside the devs. … Incomplete game…. with pay walls… to help test the most incomplete parts of the game where the goal is to let you in to help mold it into a game you want to be apart of for a long time. I’m sure it makes way more sense if you don’t think about it.