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FFXIV Duty Finder

Not even two weeks ago I published a post about dungeon finders being dangerous for the future of MMOs, and today I see a video published on the official FFXIV youtube channel introducing and explaining a feature called the “Duty Finder.”  The Duty Finder is FFXIV’s version of WoW dungeon finder with only a few alterations.

The themepark metaphor is really overused, but for me it’s spot on. When I go to Disneyland I want to experience the rides — they’re a huge part of my visit.  Yet at the same time, there’s a magic to the atmosphere and environment.  Traveling from one ‘world’ to the next while in Disneyland introduces new sites, sounds, smells, and even tastes if you can afford the food.  I feel like I am completely immersed in the magical experience Disney has cleverly crafted to give me that warm fuzzy feeling.  While I can definitely appreciate the tools to help facilitate getting on rides faster, there comes a point when the line is crossed and part of the magic is lost to convenience.

I hate how players can group across servers.  When I get matched with random people from other worlds, I can’t possibly form any meaningful relationships. I will never see those people again.  People have no obligation to behave or conduct themselves appropriately.  I used to care immensely about my reputation.  I remember accidentally wiping a group in EQ, and the wave of fear that came over me as I worried that my group would tell others.  Lucky for me, I had been a great member of this group and they shrugged it off.  on the other hand, I have hundreds of stories about bad group members and horrible people being blacklisted. When someone used to say, “I found a Monk named ‘name’ who wants to join”, people could say, “No way I grouped with him last night and he’s a real jerk” or “Yeah, she’s a fantastic person invite her.”

I’m worried that the FFXIV Duty Finder will promote a disconnected feeling, and a lack of socializing.  Players can stand around in towns conducting commerce and instantly be teleported to dungeons, so why would they go out into the world and ‘live’ in the adventure?  The world becomes an annoyance and a hindrance, something in the way and unnecessary when the bulk of the ‘content’ can be ‘run-through’ via something like the Duty Finder.  These tools of convenience meant to help players come together end up destroying — yes, destroying — a huge part of the world and ‘experience’.

Why not build tools that help players find each other?  I remember having nothing but a local chat channel to facilitate forming groups.  We used to split up and travel to major locations to find people.  Sometimes it would take hours to build the right group.  Then came the LFG tools which allowed players to tag themselves and leave a message.  These tools expanded, and quickly players could search for classes and roles.  I would rather see this type of tool expanded.

My fingers are crossed that FFXIV doesn’t become entirely about the Duty Finder like WoW has become centered around the dungeon and raid finders.  I think Eorzea deserves better than a cheap themepark experience.

Dungeon finders are dangerous

MMO Dungeon FinderGroup finding tools that instantly pair people together and teleport them to a dungeon are one of the most dangerous innovations to ever come to MMOs.

In themepark MMOs, they are a great addition.  Without tools like the Dungeon Finder, players in WoW would sit around in cities spamming all day.  In SWTOR, I remember experiencing nothing but frustration as I tried to find groups for dungeons that literally had no entrance in the world — players just teleport to them with a group.   The apt themepark analogy perfectly defines a situation like this: players don’t want to sit around all day when the entire point is about going on the rides.  Going through the content is the entire point, and facilitating that with ease makes perfect sense.  Getting a group is like waiting in line, and that’s the worst part.

Virtual world / pseudo-sandbox / sandbox MMOs are entirely different.  Part of the gameplay is traveling to locations.  Content isn’t something players stand around all day expecting to ‘run-through.’  The dungeons themselves become hubs of socialization.  Meeting people and staying in the area around the dungeon for days isn’t uncommon.  ‘Living’ in a dungeon is part of your character’s progression, and blowing through any content diminishes the fun.  Someone backpacking across Europe doesn’t want to instantly get to each destination; the experience is rooted deep in the journey.

Why are dungeon finders one of the most dangerous innovations? Not every MMO is or should be a themepark.  In the themeparks dungeon finders are amazing, but any other kind of game it becomes a shortcut.  The path of least resistance is so tempting for both developers and players.  On the flip side, when a themepark doesn’t have a dungeon finder then the game feels incomplete or inferior… almost annoying.  Suddenly dungeon finders have become this tool that absolutely must be in every themepark, and tempting to non-themepark devs to just include it because they think it’s what the modern gamer wants.  All anyone gets in the end is homogenization and cut corners.

All Raids Should Be Flexible

wow flexible raids

Three days ago Blizzard announced a new raiding difficulty: Flexible Raids.  Flexible falls between Looking for Raid and Normal difficulty, and scales depending on the number of players you bring along. You can bring 11, 12, 13, etc., and the content will scale in difficulty.  I think flexible raiding is a wonderful idea, and I wish it would replace the entire themepark raiding system.

I know I’m probably alone where I stand on themepark MMOs and their end-game content. I think that if I can bring 12 people to a raid, and you can bring 20, that doesn’t entitle you to better loot.  Blizzard obviously agreed when they equalized all loot drops between 10 and 25 man modes.

I would love if every raid was equal difficulty: Challenging.  Why should anyone feel forced to take more people for better loot?  Why should anyone feel forced to only have 10 people they want to raid with?  No matter the size of your group of friends, I think the difficulty should scale and be flexible, but the loot should all be the same — after all, if the difficulty is equal regardless of numbers, the loot should equal the challenge and be equal for everyone.  I think the only exception is a looking for raid environment where you throw a bunch of people together who don’t know each other; this one I’m okay with being significantly easier with a lower grade of loot.  Let that be a learning tier or an ultra casual tier.

Hard modes can and should still exist.  Hard modes should provide better loot.  They are hard and should provide a challenge for groups to aspire toward.  These shouldn’t be 40-man raids, or designed to be inaccessible.  If one group can bring 14 people to a hard mode then that 14 people should be challenged just as hard as a group who with 25, and if a group of 100 wants to do a hard mode together then they should be challenged at the same level as the hard mode 10.  That is the beauty of flexible raiding.

ZeniMax: TESO not a MMO … sorta

This is why community managers are so important: The Elder Scrolls Online Game Director Matt Firor is quoted in an interview today saying the following:

“This is more a multiplayer Elder Scrolls game than an MMO. [You'll see] very limited UI, nice and clean, not a lot of bars.. the combat system is very much action-based. It’s also soloable… you can solo almost the entire game. [...]” [Source]

TESO not MMO

Solo the entire game in this mostly multiplayer RPG MMO.

He has a point.  TESO has already been outed as highly-instanced, and that’s not the first time Firor has come out to saying the entire game is soloable.  The thought crossed my mind to go to their site and look for any references at all to TESO being a MMO, and sure enough I wasn’t able to find a single reference; not that there’s much info on their site at all, though.  But they haven’t really been honest in their marketing either.  ZeniMax has taken every opportunity to feed major MMO sites with TESO info, their videos emphasize MMO, and the beta application is clearly MMO bait.  Ask 9/10 people and they’ll tell you TESO is going to be a MMO.

I should be really happy, though.  I don’t want TESO to be an MMO.  TESO should never even have hinted at MMO design, even in the vaguest possible sense.  They should have always marketed and designed TESO to be a multiplayer RPG.  If TESO even smells like a MMO then it will be judged like one, and I can already tell you the crippling wave of fear is settling in on the ZeniMax team, likely fueling the backpeddaling, that being a MMO and falling short of the mark will be the kiss of death.

Someone needs to take charge and get the MMO community some much needed clarification.  You’re confusing the hell out of people, Zenimax.  You’re sending mixed messages, designing it like a themepark MMO, but calling it multiplayer RPG.  TESO has SWTOR written all over it, and that’s horrifying.

MMO Alts

mmo altsI have a serious love-hate relationship with alts.  For years, and years, and years I was an altaholic.  I went to meetings, got back on my feet, and eventually began playing just one character.  But while thinking about this topic tonight, I realized since then I’ve stopped enjoying MMOs as much.  Have you seen the new seasons of Arrested Development?  I seriously heard that exact “coincidence” whisper in the air; but is it really a coincidence? Maeby you can think on that while I continue.

There’s this awesomeness about alts.  Just knowing that I can replay through a game as another class, or go another path and have the same amount of fun makes me instantly feel good about playing.  It’s like I’ve justified my purchase in some extraordinary way.  If a game is good enough to play through again, it must be something special.  I want alts to once again be this joyful indulgence for me.  I want to feel like I can’t possibly reach max level if I don’t stop playing all of my alts and pick one to focus on.  That’s an awesome problem, but one I’m having less and less.

Not every game should allow alts, though.  I think Star Wars Galaxies is a great example of how you can have the best of both worlds.  One character.  Only one.  You can be whatever you want on that character if you put in the time, and if you want to switch then start unlearning and go down a new path.  This kept class population in check, and gave people real decisions to make.  It was like being able to play all my alts at once.

But lately I hate the concept of alts.  Alts replace the role other people are supposed to play.  People think they don’t need to rely on someone else because they can just roll an alt and fill that role.  Alts devolve into twinks that just burn through content and make me question if I really loved playing the first time through.  Alts are this defense people throw up when someone says they ran out of things to do — “Have you leveled an alt yet?”  I can’t even find a single class I like in most MMOs these days.  I end up hitting the max level and hit a rock and a hard place: I don’t like any of the class choices -and- I don’t want to go through the content.

I’m really conflicted.  Maybe the devolution of MMOs is to blame, or maybe there haven’t been any really good games to play alts in for a while. Some people will chime in almost instantly that they still struggle with the urge to play so many alts  (you know who are) and can’t understand where I’m coming from.  I can’t identify with that position when it only takes 20 hours to reach max level, and I could have every class to the max in a few weeks if the game was really worth playing through all over again.

What are your thoughts on alts?  Do away with them entirely and improve the overall experience?  Bring back the old EQ way of doing it where alts were a serious work because leveling anything required you to commit?  WoW’s method of cranking out alts? Maybe this all boils down to me wanting to enjoy a MMO more, and for a longer period of time.