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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.

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.

WildStar is a 3 Monther

I’ve been in the WildStar beta since June of 2013.  Graev and I both received access early back when there were almost no other people playing on the server.   We’ve seen the game come a long way, and I feel like I can personally give a very accurate overview of what someone can expect to get out of WildStar.

WildStar is a Themepark

There can be no doubt and no surprise that WildStar is 100% true to the themepark model.  Leveling is done by going from quest hub to quest hub.  It’s go here, pick up this, click 10 of those, kill that, come back, get a levels, slot your skills, go kill 10 of those, etc.  End-game is vertical raid treadmilling.  If you love themeparks, you will LOVE WildStar.  This is the themepark fanatics dream come true.

‘Active Combat’ is annoying

First, it’s not original.  The telegraphing has been done in Smite, League of Legends, Age of Conan, a bit in GW2, TERA, TSW, and even ESO.  I hate mashing my keys constantly like I’m playing Hungry Hungry Hippos.  That’s not what I want.  This makes me love the old school original EverQuest combat.  I’ll take white damage over mashing any day.  WildStar’s “skill”-based combat is still highly completely stat and gear dependent; you won’t be out-playing someone if their gear is better than yours.

WildStar isn’t more difficult than Vanilla WoW

I don’t know where this started, but I keep hearing people say WildStar is more difficult than vanilla WoW.   Simply untrue.  I mow through mobs and level in WildStar like there’s nothing in my way.  The leveling process in WildStar is so scripted and holds your hand so well that they practically hand you levels for quest rewards.  It’s meant to be that way.  They want you to feel like you are hyped up on sugar when you play.  As accessible as WoW was back in 2004, WildStar is the accessible version of Vanilla WoW. Seriously… they show you the red circles on the floor you have to avoid. [Read more...]

That Sense of Accomplishment

I’ve noticed a theme in the comments here and on other sites regarding the productive use of time when playing MMORPGs.  There’s a tendency for people to say something like, “I want to feel like I’ve achieved something.”  Players want to log in and know that what they did meant something.  No one wants to feel like they have wasted their time.  However, I think the way in which we perceive progress or achievement has drastically lost focus.

Back in the days of the original EverQuest, or even a few months ago when I played again, I could log in and technically lose experience yet still feel like I made progress.  Progress wasn’t just about leveling up or getting better loot.  Traveling was an accomplishment.  Meeting someone new was progress.  Progress wasn’t measured in huge leaps, but in tiny little steps.

WoW Boss Kill

There are more ways to progress than leveling up, killing a boss, and getting loot.

Part of the problem is the ease of which we progress in modern MMOs.  Leveling up from 1-50 takes a couple weeks at most for the average player.  I remember spending 6 months leveling up in EverQuest, and I was one of the fast ones soloing my entire way there on a Necromancer.  When you consider your time spend as a journey, and not a sprint, it’s okay to log in some days and perhaps appear to make no progress.  Chances are you’ve taken steps toward unlocking the ability to progress.

Then there’s the other perspective I have come to know quite well these past few months; it’s okay to just play the game and have fun.  I know to some people making progress is fun, but what happened to just “playing” the game and feeling satisfied?  This goes hand-in-hand with what I’ve been talking about these last few days.  There’s a pervasive mentality out there trying to convince people that unless they are the best raider, the best PvPer, always leveling up, always moving (like a fish) then they are somehow drowning and going to die.  It’s okay to act like a hobbit and kick back, relax, and enjoy the scenery!

WildStar Housing

Many of you agree with me that although this problem rests on the shoulders of the player, we have to acknowledge the fact that games these days are being designed to encourage people to move faster, consume more, and go in a straight line.  Games like EQN Landmark are going to start challenging some of those tropes for the MMO industry like Minecraft did for others. But such a big jump is going to be a disconnect for a lot of people.  I feel like we’ll need a smaller more gradual step to reintroduce the idea of ‘existing’ in a world rather than ‘playing through it’ as fast as possible.

Everything here ultimately boils down to gameplay that, no matter what it involves, makes the player feel accomplished.  Whether it’s decorating a house or killing a dragon, leveling up or riding a boat, finding a sword or dying a horrible death, these things have to be independently unique and fulfilling experiences.

Defining an MMOs Identity

everquest veliousBrad McQuaid (Aradune) is kickstarting an MMO. Fellow EverQuest veterans will know exactly who Brad is and the type of games he makes, but the younger generation probably has no clue. Brad is one of the big names behind EverQuest and Vanguard. He is known for a certain style old school games.

Something Brad said in a recent tweet soliciting questions for the upcomoing Kickstarter campaign got me thinking.

The game is high fantasy and if you’ve played EQ 1 and/or Vanguard, you’ve got a general idea of what the game’s about and what kind of questions to ask.

— Brad McQuaid (@Aradune) October 31, 2013

Aradune is Stinky

We remember him fondly.

That’s a powerful statement. Brad is implying that EverQuest and Vanguard were so memorable that they imprinted a definition on their players that lasted 10-15 years. He’s right!

If someone tells me “This game is like EverQuest” then I know exactly what they are talking about. Tell me a game is like Lord of the Rings Online and I’ll probably stare at you blankly while trying to figure out which part or in what way.

What makes a game definable like that?

For a long, long time someone could say “That game is like World of Warcraft” and most of us would have a good idea. I don’t think that’s really the case anymore. The definition of “WoW clone” has become a little more fuzzy over the years. The reasons are simple: (1) WoW itself has changed radically over the years, and (2) So many games copied WoW just enough that it felt like 50 versions of the same game were all diluting what it meant to be a WoW clone.

I’m learning that consistency in the MMO industry matters a lot. Good game or bad, niche or mass appeal, an MMO has to have a clear identity. The formula is just as important. MMOs are the sum of their parts; The good parts add and the bad part detract, but the entire game wouldn’t be the same if any piece went missing.

Going back to the dilution of the WoW clone, I blame the fact that games continually try to emulate what they perceive as the good and strip out the bad, failing to realize that the bad parts may have actually been making the good parts better — if nothing else, they add depth.

To Brad and MMO developers at large, I urge you to take into consideration whether or not the game you are making is refined enough that it will be memorable in 15 years. I hope Aradune remembers that ‘why‘ he is able to solicit former players matters just as much as ‘what‘ he gets from them.