Crappy painting skills aside, here’s a graph explaining my point of view of good MMOs.

A really awesome MMO isn’t about single player experience (TOR comes to mind) and a really good MMO isn’t only about group content (EQ for the most part).  MMOs are awesome when both of those interesect.

Back to EQ for a second.  People are going to clamour that EQ was a great game and in some parts it was.  It did drop subs like a brick once WoW and EQ2 came out though, so there were obviously some issues with it and they mostly surrounded the group aspect.  What EQ did right was find the balance between personal story/responsibility and group content.  Meaningingful consequences to your actions (such as faction gain/loss) affected not only your group’s ability to progress (gated content) but also your ability to progress (say enter a city without being KoS).

WoW Vanilla did this too, to a degree.  It opened up the intersection of the two parties and really rewarded group play while keeping the single player aspect alive.  You could do something meaningful in 30 minutes.  This simply has never been the case in EQ.  WoW today however, focuses much more on the single player aspect.  LFD/LFR are all for the “what about me” generation, with quick rewards.  If you don’t like it, leave ’em and try another one.  Guild levels don’t provide any type of group reward.  Enter any city without a guild and you’ll get 100 invites an hour to a 25 guild.

The success of the next great MMO will be about finding the balance of group content and single player content.  Hopefully the ship can right itself.

Knight of the Old Republic Free

See what I did there?  We’re a couple months away from SWTOR going F2P but we have more info about it now!

You get absolutely everything good about the game for free.  The story, the classes, the companions, the art.  You get what is arguably the best Star Wars game in 10 years for absolutely zero dollars.

What you do pay for is the MMO portion, the part that is pretty bad.  You pay for quick travel, you pay for purple item, you pay for bag space, you pay for crafting, you pay for PvP, you pay for dungeons, you pay for raids.  We don’t know how much, but it’s more than zero.

There’s still missing details on what exactly gets unlocked for the P2P players.  I personally cannot see why people would pay cash for a great game with crappy MMO components piece meal.  Either people will sub or they will play for free.  Hopefully we get more details down the road.

That being said, for anyone who has not had the change, KOTOR3 will be launching in a couple months.  FOR FREE.

Themepark Levels

There’s a growing trend for themeparks to avoid the idea of character levels.  Ultima Online has this same mechanic and it was one of the first out of the gate.  EQ came along and took the D&D model of levels and that seems to have somehow become the themepark standard.  There’s a bit of a shift now though.  TSW has no direct levels tied to the character, simply levels tied to skill useage.  GW2 uses levels but doesn’t gate content behind it, it simply levels the content around you (a-la Oblivion I guess).

TOR certainly has a disconnect between leveling and story.  The “openess” of previous BioWare games (minus DA2, ugh) was apparently cut on the floor in order to allow players to stay together.  Other than the personal stories, which account for maybe 10% of all content, there was nothing keeping you on a planet past the artificial level barrier.  RIFT has the same mechanic for moving forward but you can easily move down levels with the mentoring ability.

WoW is the odd one out.  Keen covers some points and there are some good counterpoints. You can argue that content and levels are two separate items.  I do understand the gating mechanic of levels in a game with 100 buttons.  If I gave you all of them to start, you’d have no idea how to play.  If I gave you everything to start, then you’d burn out on raids/dungeons.  The actual content is pretty decent but how do you pace content reward? There are over 10,000 quests in the game.  That’s a ridiculous number.

If themeparks were to remove levels, you’d still need some gating mechanism to extend playtime and get people used to systems.  If I bought a level 90 Druid it would take me a couple hours to gear them up to heroic dungeon levels. If I played a Druid from 1-90, it would take me a few weeks to get to the same place (if not more).

That being said, how in the world Blizzard thinks than John Smith is going to pick up WoW today and go through 90 levels to play with their friends is ridiculous.  I’m leveling a monk in full heirloom gear (45% exp boost), with 20% from the guild bonus and with 50% from the daily monk quest.  I’ve been leveling for 5 days now, having 7 years of experience in the game too, and I’m still not even finished the LK content.  I still need to do Cataclysm and then MoP.  Once I’m there, the content from 1-89 is practically irrelevant.

Real themeparks are about all the rides.  Sure, there are rides where you have to be “this tall” to get on, but I don’t know of any that say “you’re too tall”.  Rift makes previous content relevant through artifacts, quests, achievements, pets and mentoring. WoW makes previous content relevant through achievements (x quests complete) and pet battles.  WoW’s dungeons and raids previous to an expansion pack (say Stonecore) are 100% empty.

It would certainly be fun to have access to all dungeons at max level and at an optional scaleable level.



Bags and the Problem with Space

Inventory space is a problem in all games.  Either you can only have 2 guns, or 10 slots or 100.  Most F2P games take advantage of this space issue and charge you real money to increase the size.  It’s obviously a balancing issue where the dev needs to have enough space for moderate use while not making it so big that their databases crash from billions of items stored.

When WoW started, you had 5 bag slots with a maximum of 16 per slot.  Banks gave you 32, plus 6 bag slots for a rather large amount of gold.  Today, you can get bags with 26-32 slots, which pretty much doubles the storage that existed previously.  RIFT also offers multiple bag sizes but they’re still in Vanilla mode, so we haven’t seen the explosion, if at all.  EvE has this problem too, but it’s combated by increasing your ship storage size (which is offset by reducing offense/defense).

A possible solution for the themepark crowd is the exchange and trade-up.  Where each WoW expansion typically adds 2-10 new tiers of commodities –  and MoP has added a stupid amount with cooking – you really are stuck with each character holding on to items, then mailing them across to players who can use them.  What I suggest is a shared commodities bag.  When I’m out and about and collect a piece of Turtle meat, who says my Shaman needs it?  Perhaps my Rogue is the cook.  If I was able to put items into an exchange pile, that all characters had access to, I would be saving on space.  Many games do this today in the Action RPG sphere  – D3 and Torchlight 2 shared stashes come to mind.  Heck, WoW and Rift and all of them do it with a Guild Bank already.  People have been forming 2 man guilds for years for the group storage.  By sharing the commodities, I am reducing the individual slot requirement by the number of characters I have.  Win.

The second option is the trade up.  Inscription is a PERFECT example for this.  You need to carry a solid dozen inks, milled from dozens of herbs in order to make glyphs.  The trade up system already exists here where you trade 1 type of ink for another.  This exact same model could be used for other tradeskills and not necessarily on a 1:1 basis.  Maybe 5 gold bars gives me 1 truesilver.

A final solution is the elimination of grey items or, like RIFT, the addition of a “sell all crap” button to the game.  The entire purpose of these items is to bloat bags and to be traded for cash.  If you go the first route, simply change the RNG to give a cash bonus when a grey item should drop.  If you go the latter, I know half my bags would empty in a second.

Increasing bag size is a temporary solution.  The problem is that there is too much stuff that people collect in their travels.


Social Climate

A bit of a deviation today, turning once again to the social climate of gaming.  I’ve been gaming for nearly 30 years now and across all that time there has been a definite progress in terms of social interaction and stigma.  We’re currently in a time where it’s “cool” to be geeky but not yet cool enough to game.  It’s getting better mind you.  When I first started writing guides/selling items online, people looked at my like I was a weirdo.  Nowdays, people simply talk to me about what I write.  I’ve been at parties where complete strangers walk up to me and talk about it, simply from reference.  There really isn’t much more to be said about this particular point as it’s generational.  Give it another 10-20 years and gaming will become more popular than sports (if it isn’t already).

My point for this post is the social interaction that exists within gaming culture.   This is no different than any sub-culture’s social growth in most respects.  It starts small, with a dedicated group and similar (if not identical) interests.  If you like to roleplay in real life, then the odds of you finding kindred spirits at a LARPing event are rather high.  In essence, you need two things: common interests and opportunity.

Transcribe that to gaming.  In the early days of BBS, the player pool was miniscule and the interests common.  You could make friends rather easily.  The first MMOs came out and with a lack of competition, again, simple to make social pairings.  In UO, I ran the largest anti-PK group on the server and made good friends with most of the PKs.  Vanilla WoW had server limitation, so that at the top end of any server, you had a pool of perhaps 100 players.  It was rather easy to make groups.  As the game moved forward and “casualized” the content, more and more people fit into that player pool.  Borders broke down and LFD/LFR came into play.  Now, when you play the game, you have better odds of finding a bad with 1000 gold than seeing the same person 2 days in a row.  The player pool has been massively diluted.

This is one reason why the more niche games have a better social grasp on their players.  The games serve a specific need – which attracts a specific individual.  Since those are smaller groupings, it’s somewhat easier to make the social connection.  EvE is a superb example of how a game goes from social-hive to wild-west.  Over 80% of the player base never touches the social aspect of the game (minus the core mechanics of the game).  However, EvE is still partially controlled by the original player base, through the CSM.  Where WoW is categorically aimed at a different market than launch, EvE is headed in the exact same direction as day 1.

There’s an additional topic on about how EvE’s social atmosphere is actually negative and WoW’s is a positive one from a psychological aspect.  By keeping a small social group that never changes, you become isolated and xenophobic.  WoW’s idea to expose all players to all sorts of different social stimuli is a net positive for social integration.  How both of these games actually integrate these ideas through game mechanics is a completely different topic.