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Bringing players back to older MMOs

Today I want to pose a question to our readers: What would it take to get you to go back and play a MMO?

I was thinking about this when I read a statement from the GW2 devs saying something like, “Don’t count us out yet.”  My personality tends to feel sympathy for others and I put myself in their position.  A year and a half ago they were at the top of the world.  Their beta was going strong and all the hype was focused squarely on their game as the next big thing.  Their team was probably larger, their spirits high, and their future bright.  Now you won’t find GW2 being talked about because it’s last year’s news, it’s no longer the game everyone plays.  The general consensus may even be that GW2 is a good game, but the fact remains it has slipped.

What about games that are even older?  EverQuest 2 and Vanguard are still being updated with content, still making the news (maybe even more than GW2) yet I know their populations are smaller.  They are 6… 7 + years old?  Yet I personally believe they are both good games; arguably some of the best.

What would it take for a game like that to bring people back — to bring YOU back?  I’m genuinely interested in your opinions.  Is it even possible for an older MMO to get people to play?  I think about solutions like the Station Pass where you pay one subscription and get access to every game a company makes.  That works when a company like SOE has a large portfolio.   Veteran rewards are often used to keep people playing but rarely to bring them back.  Going F2P works short term (SWTOR) but doesn’t really work long-term.  Maybe an active game constantly developing new content and truly showing progress?  Even then, why would I go back and play something like GW2 when I can just wait for EQN, WildStar, or ESO?

If you’re someone who goes back to older games I am interested in hearing why.  I think there’s a door here waiting to be unlocked that will really help a lot of companies keep people interested in their games. I’d love to see the industry stop transitioning together to every new title.

I really do want every game and studio to see success.  The more real options we all have the better off the entire industry becomes as competition increases quality and the entire industry flourishes.

PSA: Water levels in MMOs at an All-time Low

We’re facing an epidemic here, people. Over the past several years vast quantities of water have been rapidly disappearing from our online virtual worlds. We’re already at the point where you cannot find a body of water that is more than knee-deep. If we don’t do anything to solve this crisis– Yeah, this bit is going on too long… But really, where has all the water gone? Some of my fondest memories in MMORPGs have been related to water and now it seems like most games don’t bother with it at all.

SWTOR Knee Deep in Water

Water in SWTOR never goes above the knees.

First off I should probably mention that large bodies of water are terrifying. If you don’t agree then you are a crazy person. You don’t know what kind of crazy, messed up stuff is going on down there. Giant sharks, huge kraken things, slumbering old gods, male water horses that give birth? It’s a freakshow, man. And no, I do not have an irrational fear of water that stems back to a horrific family vacation on a house-boat. This shit is legit. On a more serious note… Water can be really frightening but also very exciting. Back in EQ I LOVED raising my swimming skill and exploring underwater locations. When I got the water-breathing spell I was happier than the fat kid in school on pizza day. Of course I was that kid, but that’s neither here nor there.

WoW did do some pretty good stuff with water, and GW2 tried (though I think they missed the mark), but aside from that I can’t really think of another game that has really done much at all to create a real underwater experience, and that’s a real shame. Underwater zones offer the opportunity for some more interesting encounters and tense situations that you don’t normally find on dry-land. It really doesn’t have to be underwater, either. Navigating the ocean on your own ship and suddenly being ambushed by water monsters that leap onto your deck would be AWESOME. Even better would be some kind of giant sea creature, leviathan or kraken dude wrapped around your vessel. I mean, dang… That sounds like it would be so much fun but nobody wants to do it. I won’t go into detail about how many games have promised me boats and straight-up LIED to me. It’s a sore subject around here.

It really bums me out that water is pretty much only knee-high these days. Maybe I’m alone in this but I want the danger and excitement of sailing the open seas, exploring under-sea ruins, and stabbing some fish dudes in the face.

MMO Crafting

MMO Crafting

Having your crew craft for you fits the setting really well, but the execution and implementation falls back on the waiting game mixed with WoW’s material combining simplicity.

MMO crafting hasn’t seen a lot of innovation for quite some time.  In fact, I think crafting has slowly been sliding to a worse state or neglected entirely by the latest generation. The complexity, depth, scope, involvement, and opportunity (I think most of those mean the same thing) of the SWG and EVE era are all but gone.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but that depth has been replaced with tacked crafting that is repetitive and mostly meaningless.

Crafting in a contemporary MMO falls into two categories: (1) Throw in the mats and press combine, and/or (2) Passive, waiting game.

WoW’s throw in the mats and press combine has been shared across everything from LotRO to GW2 and SWTOR.  The light mini-game style of Vanguard and EQ2 is only a variation on a theme.  Then there’s this fixation on ‘professions’.  If you want to be a Leatherworker you probably have to be a Skinner.  It’s very prescribed, very scripted (everyone makes x widgets before getting to the next tier).  Crafting is about leveling and ‘maxing out’ and obtaining recipes, and if you’re lucky they throw in some whack-a-mole gimmick to distract you for all of two seconds.

Crafting in almost every MMO for the last 8 years has been a selfish endeavor.  People craft for themselves because there’s one or two good recipes they hope to get one day.  Most of the time it isn’t about the items at all, but the bonuses associated with that profession.  Few people craft for others, and few games restrict people so that you can’t craft everything — do everything —  for yourself.

I’d like something new and more creative.  I want to see crafting involve more customization, more free-form individuality.  What if MMO crafting was more like Minecraft where we put things in and shaped the items ourselves? Why can’t we have a system where no two items are alike, and I can experiment and become well-known for the way I make the weapons?  I want crafting to impact the ecosystem.  I want the world to change because Legolasers crafted something magnificent and suddenly we find ourselves having to adapt.

Crafting can be about more than making items.  Trade can shape the world.  Someone should start innovating on what should be one of the most influential and powerful game mechanics rather than forgetting about it or tacking it on at the end.

Camelot Unchained’s Building and Mining Systems

Camelot Unchained is getting closer to their goal, but even closer to their deadline.  I’ve pledged, and I think a lot of our readers have pledges as well.  CU’s building, and in a way part of its crafting, system was revealed recently.   Personally, I would have lead with this information.  This is huge.  In fact, this is indeed unique and revolutionary, and something that really needs a lot of attention.  I think Camelot Unchained’s building will be at the forefront, at the very core, of everything players are fighting for in RvR, and everything players are working towards.

Why fight to win in RvR? Simple: Finite Resources.  What do you do with those resources?  You build whatever you want in a system that resembles Minecract.  Watch the video below.

CU Mine OwnershipI have my concerns.  These past few days my thoughts have been centered right on the necessity of guilds, and one of my all-time biggest complaints about modern PvP games has been this elitist jackassery that we see in games like GW2. There are these big guilds who think they are God’s gift to the game and they the only ones allowed to own, do, or lead anything.  There becomes this stigma and unwritten rule about taking an area or even participating in PvP if you’re potentially taking the spot of someone else who for some reason ‘deserves’ to be there more than you or should own a keep because victory is more assured if that guild owns the area.

I’m worried that the mine locations in Camelot Unchained will be treated with this same inevitable elitism.  I’m calling it right now; if I roll up to a mine that Wart’s guild has built around and I start tapping away, I’m going to get grief for taking resources away from Wart’s guild who, for some reason, think they own the thing and have a claim to the resources inside.  Just because a mine doesn’t run out right away, that doesn’t change the nature of the typical entitled elitist.  I see on the list that mines can be claimed.  If individuals or guilds claim mines, this will be a disaster that will destroy realm pride and unity.  I still need to be convinced this isn’t destined for epic failure.

The building system sounds awesome, though.  Placing each cell individually the same way I would if I played Minecraft has me already thinking up ways I’d build a base.  Being able to roll up on an enemy’s base and break it down into raw materials introduces this entire new way of getting the crafting side involved.  If a player just wants to set up a house/shop and sell weapons, he or she can do so.  But if a crafter wants to be apart of the combat, they can roll up to a siege, or participate in the salvage operation.

My mind is racing with creative possibilities for this system, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself and start imagining things that CSE isn’t capable of doing.  So for now I’ll just take what they’ve said in the video and know that it sounds like a ton of fun.  I have my doubts about the mines and their faith in humanity, but maybe there will be a way to keep people in check.

If you haven’t already, consider pledging.  Camelot Unchained needs your help to get funded because without it we’ll just have a bunch of ideas and no game.

Graphics Make or Break MMOs

Graphics Make or Break a MMOs

While making my rounds this afternoon I couldn’t help but notice the contrasting viewpoints on both sides of MMO graphics.  The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) just had a big press preview, and in every screenshot (like the one above) I see beautiful landscapes, characters, monsters, lighting, and really a very visually pleasing game.  My immediate reaction is, “ooo I want to play that game.”

Yet I think back to my recent experience with Guild Wars 2, also a very visually appealing game, and I remember the horrible performance issues I experienced.  WvW performance dropping by 80% was ultimately what started me on the path to quitting.  A lack of content reassured me the choice was a good one, but if WvW didn’t lag something awful I bet I would have lasted much longer.  You all remember Age of Conan, right?  The game had many issues, but looking pretty wasn’t one of them; performance sure was, though.

MMOs need to look good to attract people, but not at the cost of performance, and certainly not at the cost of having graphics be the gameplay.  Andrew of City State Entertianment wrote Camelot Unchained’s Foundational Principle #12 wherein he talks about not sacrificing core gameplay for more triangles. He’s spot on.  In my opinion, no game will ever look good enough for visuals to be the entire experience — not even a big part of the experience.  Maybe that’s why I’m okay with going back and playing MMOs that came out 10-15 years ago.  The gameplay in those games trumped the graphics back then, and the gameplay trumps the graphics today.  Going back to what Andrew said, performance is a primary pillar.  There are too many experiences of poor performance vividly etched into my memory (WAR, SWTOR, GW2) for me to even doubt that truth.

Start with gameplay.  When that’s solid, and working just how you want it, begin focusing on graphics.  If at any point in time the graphics diminish performance enough to hinder that solid state of gameplay, take a step back and ask whether you want people to play your game because it looks pretty or because they’re able to experience the game you set out to make.  That’s how graphics can make, instead of break, an MMO.  So, while I can’t say for certain that graphics and gameplay are mutually exclusive,  I know that designing around gameplay first is always the better choice.

*Update* Graev and I began discussing the topic further and we came to the conclusion that the worse the graphics get the more freedom given to the player.  Graphics, if used in any way as a constraint, directly limit gameplay.  The graphics engine itself directly limits what can be done by players and what developers can actually develop.  So in a way, there’s not just the idea of developing gameplay then applying graphics, but an idea that perhaps there is an inverse relationship between the two.  That leads to a fascinating realization that the better graphics get, especially in MMOs, the less players can do; better graphics, worse gameplay.