Sheep for Wolves.

“There may be much truth in the feeling that many Terra Nova people share, that MMORPGs and the gamer community are evolving into far less interesting forms…”

Just this throw-away line on Terra Nova got me thinking, possibly in the wake of my last (ages ago) post on here (see below). There is definitely a shift in the MMO marketplace but I am not sure it is all doom and gloom.

Pathfinder Online is aiming for a bout 30k subscribers. Not a huge number, when you consider the likes of WoW and Guildwars 2 and such. The game is designed with a dedicated and engaged core audience in mind and as such it is a complicated game with a fairly high barrier to entry. This is not true of the much more densely populated games I mention above. MMOs used to ALL have a fairly high barrier to entry – even WoW – with its painfully slow XP curve and class/race imbalance. As ‘casual’ gaming becomes a much more profitable exercise and casual gamers multiply it makes perfect sense that the most populist MMOs become more ‘casual’ in nature. They are easy to get into, require less dedicated time, and provide features around their core gameplay that resemble the drop-in-drop-out nature of casual gaming.

I think this is great. I recently got back into LoL and I love the casual but social nature of that game (toxic atmosphere aside). Providing a more casual level of engagement is I think going to be critical to most community or socially based games, even those with a complex ‘hardcore’ backbone like PFO. A world must feel populated, and turning away players who only want to log in 4 hours a week seems unnecessary. There are a number of features in PFO that are slated to provide more casual type gameplay and I personally am really excited about what they will do to the game. Although there is some pushback from the more hardcore fans on the forums who dont want ‘casual players clogging up their world’ I suspect that in fact that is EXACTLY what they want – they just haven’t seen how it plays out yet.

Virtual worlds are over. Maybe.

I’ve been reading TerraNova for the last 5 years or so and even quoted/linked it occasionally here. Its a pretty academic and in many cases dry look at gaming and virtual world but its extremely well researched and pertinent. A couple of months ago it started to wind down a little with this post
Here are some brutal and depressing quotations:

It proved impossible to make everyone feel like a hero in a world populated by millions of would-be heroes. It proved impossible to construct mechanisms that allowed people to find fulfillment from their fellow-players rather than frustration. In the end, the concept of a multi-player fantasy world broke on the shoals of the infinite weirdness of human personality.”

“Perhaps virtual world designers were the latest incarnation of the utopian community builders of the 19th and earlier centuries. “If only we set up the rules correctly, people will naturally have a blast together!” No; I guess they won’t. Not even if the utocrat can control physics down to the very atoms. Not even if the art and sound of the world is heavenly. Not even if people are given thousands of meaningful missions and wonderfully uplifting stories. Perhaps the mere presence of Others breaks whatever dream people are trying to have.”

For someone working as a designer on a fantasy sandbox MMO this is a frightening proposition. I am neither agreeing nor disagreeing, however. I think there are significant challenges but there are also significant lessons learned. Its all about scope/goals, and I think it is still possible to create a world/environment for a relatively small number of people to ‘be heroes’ in a sense. The dream of ‘terra nova’ is almost certainly dead, however. Which perhaps is a blessing of sorts – there is still ‘terra vecchia” to deal with.

Ryan Dancey on MMO Subscriptions

First post in a while. Apologies.

The CEO of Goblinworks (goblinworks.com) – the company at which I am currently working on Pathfinder Online – has an interview here in which he talks about payment methods for MMOs. Its a pretty interesting read if you are into that sort of thing and its a pretty nice insight into his philosophy for payments in PFO (indirectly).

Have a read!

Automation in MMOs and “Tibia” – An overcomplicated assessment

So this is an interesting article about the ‘deskilling’ of players through the automation of tasks by bots and macros. It makes some interesting (if laboured) arguments, including a brief foray into MMO grinding production behaviour is better defined by Taylorism or Marxism *rolls eyes*.

One thing I noticed was that when comparing repetitive MMO behaviours to industrial production there is little discussion about risk. The question of “skill” arises – knowing how and when to defeat an enemy – but the psychological implications are not discussed. While it may be fair to say that repeating grindy tasks is analogous to “welding two sections of a fender together” the excitement of combat and rush of success is not present in the welding task. Yes, grinding is boring, but the mere process can contain elements of enjoyment not present in manual industry. Likewise there is a sense of ‘improvement’ that exists in both the literal XP gain and in the development of techniques and skill that far outweigh the welding of a fender in complexity and interest.

I recently returned to playing WoW a little with some friends and found it particularly interesting that some of the old ‘masteries’ required of the player in the form of spell combos, rotations, and talent choices, are instead replaced by ‘skill’ requirements – “press this now” “use this now” “activate that next”. This reminds me in part of the difference between the parkour aspects of early Tomb Raider games and those in Assassin’s Creed, where the fiddly positioning and timing aspects of clambering and jumping between surfaces and locations is replaces in the latter by a simple timed button press. The mastery is removed and replaced by skill.

Goblincast!

So the other week I was involved in a Q and A with the rest of the GW Goblins about Pathfinder Online. You can hear my dulcet tones here! They mention that I sound a little garbled, but that is presumably because to Americans I have ‘an accent’!

Halls of Dwarven Lore (PFS)

THIS happened! This is my first PFS scenario adventure and I am quite pleased with it! I hope those who play it are too. Its all dwarves and gremlins and, actually Party vs. Party combat, which you dont see every day. Its tough, subject to GM meanness, but you gotta have a sense of peril, eh?

MMORPG.com Review of Darkfall Unholy Wars

This is a review of that game Darkfall Online I worked on in Greece, remember that? I think it is pretty fair (I might even have been a little more harsh) but what really excites me is how some of the features I designed are described. This game was broken, and I firmly believe that the work Vangelis Kalaitzis´╗┐, Al Stellakis´╗┐, Craig Allen´╗┐, Elias, and I did fixed it.

It was tough. Seriously tough. As an outsider I found Aventurine an initially hostile and challenging environment, reluctant to embrace change and woefully disorganised and demoralised. Over time things grew much better, particularly as was able to prove myself as a designer and as I was able to forge relationships with the team. I am glad I stuck with it and I am glad that community and reviewers are enjoying and embracing the systems I designed, justified, and FOUGHT for.

On the “feat” and “Prowess” system (probably my single biggest change to gameplay as a whole and pretty much the core of the character development experience) : “definitely one of the best advancement systems I have seen in an MMO in a long while.”

Worth every head-clutching, blood-boiling, cross-language, freddo-fuelled, nervous breakdown endured.

Officially a Goblin!

It is maybe a bit weird to announce a blog post in a blog post, but there we are! My first official Goblinworks design blog post went live today, and you can see it here!

It is an outline of the development index system we will be using to govern the power and features of settlements in game. Enjoy.

Darkfall Launch!

So word is, Darkfall UW is launching on the 16th of April!! I am super-excited, and thrilled it has finally come around!

The Prowess System was probably the single biggest change I introduced to DF:UW, so you can hate on me if you have a problem with it! It has been developed slightly further than my initial designs to incorporate more ‘levelling’ aspects than I had intended, but for something I had to sell EXTREMELY hard to the ‘powers that be’ in the first place I am thrilled to see they have taken it on to such an extent.

The system is designed not just to help in eliminating macro-ing and AFK-ing, but also to help players re-engage with the game, and to incentivise the behaviour that makes the game fun for everyone, and discourage the kind of crappy behaviour for which Darkfall had become famous.

Since its the end of the world and all…

This is pretty on-the-money. I think I’d even go one step further and draw a connection between subscriptions and the development of the familiar. Whatever we are subscribing too it becomes a constant, and the excitement of our commitment is the development of both the world (with us as a part of it) and ourselves (by the world’s effect on us). It can be particularly jarring when that world changes dramatically without our in-put or control, and while in some cases this can create interest and excitement, in others it can breed resentment and detachment.