Marvel Heroes – What Early Access?

You may or may not have heard that Marvel Heroes is coming out soon.  June 4th is the launch date.  Live.  Similar to what Neverwinter did, there are founder’s packs available.  $200 gets you every character, a few bucks in game and access 7 days early.  More on that in a bit.  $60 gives you 5 characters, less bucks and 4 days head start.  $20 gets you 1 character, pennies and 2 days head start.

A lot of people harp on Neverwinter since it’s in open beta and not truly “launched”, even though it’s taking in money.  The advantage to this model is that you can take down the servers daily to patch things up – which they are still doing.  The first few days were a mess but now, the game is quite playable.

Marvel Heroes on the other hand…they’ve been up a total of maybe 20 hours out of 72?  They are down right now and have been extending the downtime since 6AM this morning. When you promise access to a “launched” game on a specific date and are unable to deliver, this causes problems.  People, for some weird reason, take time off work and other duties on launch day to play the game like maniacs.  It’s pretty textbook OCD if you ask me but hey, to each their own.  When you say you’ll do something for money and then YOU DON’T, then there are going to be issues.

This reminds me of when UO launched and the servers were horrible to start.  There was plenty of downtime and for a few years, daily maintenance.  The box the game came in said 24 hours available, so out came the lawsuits.  EULA’s since then prevent that from happening.  That being said, today word of mouth is much more deadly than a lawsuit.  If the vibe out of the gate is negative, the game is going to tank hard.  RIFT has a positive beta and (ok) launch, did great for a long time. DCUO did not and tanked.  TOR isn’t much different here.

Maybe from this point forward there is no early access.  Maybe it follows Diablo 3’s concept of staggered entries (which itself had bad PR due to length).  Maybe you just soft launch and if people want to buy founder’s pack, sell them non time-sensitive features.  It’s obviously harder from a buy-to-play perspective, but in the F2P model, soft launch the crap out of a service to make sure there’s quality.

Launch day can break a company.  It’s impressive that companies are still repeating the same mistakes from 15 years ago today.

Free to Play Foibles

Since Rift is going F2P in June, quite a few people have voiced some concerns over the business model and the long term ramifications.  I think Wilhelm has the most sober approach to it all.  There are quite a few items I would like to discuss here that I think many people have either overlooked or simply not really thought much about.

A subscription game has a relatively assured income model.  You have X players you get X money.  As long as the playerbase is happy, you’re going to bring in money.  This part I don’t really get about RIFT since the quality has always been there but without Hartman at the helm, we all pretty much figured this was going to happen.  WoW makes about $50 million a month and can amortize/invest into future content development.  The thing about themeparks is that the developers determine the content and the players consume it.  Given WoW’s development cycle, you’re paying about $60-$100 per patch and then another $60 per expansion pack.  Take any other themepark F2P game and you can pay much, much less for content – sometimes nothing.  Sandboxes do not have this problem (hence UO still be subscription) and PvP games are pretty close to this.  This is rather clear if you take a step back from the actual game.

Where people tend to trip up a bit is two-fold.  First, a company needs to make money and people have to spend money.  I know, simple.  The thing about making money is that you have to consistently make it.  If you’re selling unlocks for an account, things that last forever, then after a while, people won’t be buying them if they’ve been there for a long time.  You need new players to buy that sort of stuff.  In order to make cash, you need to sell consumables.  In a level-based, gear-based system, what is consumable?  New content is one, but the price tag to develop it is high and you’re not sure to get the money back.  Character customizations work but again, unless you’re overwriting what was there before, you’re not going to have long term success.  Devs have yet to figure out this problem, instead they all rely on lockboxes, which is more or less gambling.

This is where it gets tricky.  As a general rule, people are stupid.  A person is smart, certainly.  Groups of people, in small enough quantities can show smarts – hence guilds.  Large groups, as is evident in any political circle, are as dumb as bricks – if not simply lemmings.  Neverwinter’s spam of who is successfully unlocking mounts in their gambling boxes invariably makes other people think “I can win too”.  Even the lottery is a tax on the stupid as you have a better chance to be hit by lightning twice before winning the lottery once.  People still buy dozens of tickets a week.

So you end up in the situation where developers have yet to find a consumable item that doesn’t make players feel like they are getting gouged (which is why we pay subscriptions right?) and resort to the lowest common denominator.  Which the public happily provides.

A third point that I need to bring up is the comparison to F2P in the Asian market.  The majority of those games are P2W, clearly.  And the majority only stay on the market for 12-18 months.  This is the polar opposite of the western F2P market.  For some reason I can’t yet figure out, our side of the ocean wants free games for years and years and years.  If you’re too cheap to pay 10$ a month for a F2P game, you shouldn’t complain that they are offering items to people who will.  If you’re unable to find things to buy at that price point, which I personally find issue with, then there’s simply a problem with the financial model of the game (*cough* SWTOR *cough*).

While I might think that RIFT could have continued for another 10 years with a subscription model, apparently they were getting enough feedback that F2P games were eating into their profits.  WoW is no different I’m sure.  Someone will have to make the tough decision of either guaranteed income and to weather the F2P storm while the market evolves or to jump into a pool of cannibalistic fish who will do everything to destroy their competition.

Is Free to Play here to stay?  Yes.  Is the current market deployment sustainable? No.  Did the exact same thing happen to subscriptions over the past 5 years?  Hell yes.

ADD is Good

Let’s say it’s taking me about 5-6 hours per level in Rift and that’s if I concentrate.  I find it extremely difficult to set myself up on a goal and continue to completion before something else catches my eye.  The eye catches are the following:

  • harvesting nodes:  I get to one, see another, see another, etc…
  • carnage quests: these are kill X quests that start when you kill the first enemy type.  There are 20-40 per zone from what I’ve seen
  • main quests: there are only 3-4 active at any given time, sometimes only 1.  It’s the driver to move through the zone often
  • rifts: these pop up (or I summon them) for a 5 minute battle.
  • random quests: these come from drops or items on the ground, they make you move around the map.
  • protect from invasions: at specific spots on the map are hubs that you use to defend against invasions.  sort of like rifts but without the quest mechanics.
  • artifacts: the shiny white spots that you collect to fill out, uh, collections
  • achievements: sometimes you just see a weird spot and know there’s an achievement, like jumping from waterfalls
  • exploration: the vistas look amazing. I like to find the highest point around and look around

All of these are happening all the time.  It makes it hard to just do one thing and then get to the next, as most themeparks do.  WoW and TOR are these types of games.  I remember doing 85 to 90 recently and I think there were a dozen choices total that I had to make.  I make more than a dozen choices per hour in Rift.

Though the content isn’t necessarily innovative, it makes it continually fresh because it’s given out in various types and amounts.  It sure does make the time much more fun than it could be and let’s Trion make leveling take as long as it does.  Now to go smash some giant bone golems.

Now That's New

Leveling in Rift takes a while.  I think there were more 90s after day 1 than there are level 60s after nearly a week, in terms of proportion.  I’m 51 and 3/4 or so, after about 2 hours.

I started in Cape Jule and moving to the next zone everything is level 53.  So I hoped by into my magic gate and tried the second zone.  I modified my soul (for what seems like the 20th time in 4 days) to something that allows me to do some AE killing more effectively and you know, survive those darn attacks.  Working out pretty well.

I mentioned in an earlier post about the quest breakdown in SL.  Everything that isn’t a story quest seems to reward either cash or a new type of currency.  This currency is used to buy Adventurer gear.  This stuff is upgradeable with tokens you buy with more of that currency.  I’ve been a fan of interlinked systems for some time, especially when you have multiple paths to achieve a given goal.  You can get these currencies from pretty much any PvE activity, outside of crafting.  It fits solo players, group players, rift hunters or guilds.

At this pace, I don’t think I’ll be hitting 60 for another few weeks, maybe not until the 1 month mark.  Think about that for a second.  When is the last time you played an MMO where you didn’t hit max level before your first month was over?

Hats off Trion.

Rift Take 2

Yesterday was working against me for some MMO time.  I got home exhausted, took care of the squirts and when I finally had a chance to get into Rift, I got a message that the servers were coming down for some maintenance.  Argh.  I was able to log back in near midnight while the youngest one needed a drink.

A few important notes though.  There are two new continents that are each as big, or bigger, than the original world.  The original world had a good pace of content from 1-50, with no real “dead” zones.  Compare this to WoW and quite a few useless zones (Blasted Lands, Azshara, Thousand Needles, Desolace and quite a few more), Rift seems to have a knack of putting in relevant content for their zones.  I would say the time to get to 50 back then was decent – a couple weeks of effort.  TOR took me under 24 hours of play time.  My WoW monk did 1-90 in under 2 days played (albeit with heirlooms).

I’m a few hours in now, less than 50% into the first level (of 10) and have just had piles of experience from different sources jump in.  Let’s count the ways of getting experience:

  • Complete a quest-giver quest
  • Complete an item pick up quest
  • Complete a loot pick up quest
  • Complete a “wild” quest based on kills
  • Complete a Rift
  • Complete an Invasion
  • Complete an Instant Adventure
  • Complete a dungeon
  • Complete world PvP
  • Complete a battleground
  • Kill something

All of these items assume from the start that you’re in a cooperative game.  Where Wilhelm talks about the problems of questing in EQ2, they pretty much do not exist in Rift.  I’ve rarely seen a time where I was not grouped and didn’t have the “join group” button above the screen.  Doing so has tremendous advantages.

Most enemies are of the Ember Isle difficulty, meaning that if you have a fresh 50, you’re going to have trouble here.  Grouping makes that easy.  Some quests need you to kill 20 or more enemies.  Grouping cuts that number down really fast and you’re getting experience for those kills even if you aren’t swinging the club.  Invasions are all over the place and are likely to kill you alone, groups help.  Groups aren’t silent either – there always seems to be some chat going on in a relatively friendly place.

I missed this place.

It's a Storm Alright

A few gigs of download and Storm Legion is up and running.

Rift Storm Legion

Now, you might not like the art style of Rift and that’s cool but you have to admit that being able to see a vista and actually visit  the places you can see is cool.

As with all expansion launches, there are service issues.  What there isn’t is server queues, which is awesome.  What there is, is lag, which is sad.

I tried dimensions quickly and I think I’m going to be spending a lot of time tweaking mine.  It’s nice that you have a selection of dimensions rather than a single setting for everyone.  Good call.  The toolset is solid as well.

The third nicest part is the auto-looting of cash.  Drops are typically garbage and unless you want to harvest a creature (skin, herbs, whatever) there isn’t much need to loot.  What is awesome is killing and getting the cash deposited directly into your bags.  Great!

The second nicest part, for me, is the organic questing.   You still see ! around but you only get 1-2 quests at a time.  Otherwise, you need to actually go out in the world and pick up the quests naturally.  Either by killing an enemy and unlocking the quest or picking up a specific item.  This is such a different model than WoW/EQ that I’m quite taken aback.

The nicest is the open tagging system.  Now, imagine your typical tagging system where the first person gets the loot.  Imagine that being the only thing the first attacker gets.  Everyone else gets exp and quest credit, even if not grouped.  You need to kill 20 beasts?  Kill anything that you see, along with the random people around you.  Even better, press the auto-group button on the top of your screen to keep moving along.

I’m only a couple hours in but dang if I’m not having a blast.

Now What?

Over the weekend I had a chance to finally jump into some heroic dungeons.  I had been level 90 for a week but I only qualified for Scenarios due to the level of my gear.  A couple drops and quests in Dread Wastes and I was ok to go.

Firstly, Heroics is not the right name.  These are basic level 90 dungeons.  In fact, if you do the dungeons while levelling, you’re likely to have a harder time.  Each one can last 20 minutes up to 45 minutes, with 3-5 bosses.  Each has some weird mechanic and a few are quite gimmicky.  Hopper in the Brewery is a good example; you get swamped continuously with virmen (sort of rats) and need to use a hammer to keep them airborne.

Interestingly, in the 5 or so heroics I ran, I only met one “go go go” person.  I actually mentioned to the group that I thought they were extinct, to might lols. Everyone so far has been quite friendly.  I had a brand new tank in one group.  That was a lot of fun since it was a low pressure situation.  I’m sure I’ll start scraping the bottom of barrel at some point but this lower point of entry seems to also reduce the stress level of other players.

In all the heroics I’ve run so far (maybe 8), I’ve seen 2 upgrades.  So, statistically, I’ve seen 2 upgrades out of a possible ~35 drops – not the best ratio.  This is compounded by the gear variants. As a monk, I only have 2 types – AGI or INT leather.  A paladin though, they use 3; STR, INT and tanking.   At last count, I see 12 gear variants.  Poor design is when you have one gear variant per class.  Like shamans having not only casting mail but healing mail gear.  That means that on any given boss, I have a 1 in 12 chance of seeing an upgrade (or close to it).  Not so motivating if I only wanted gear – especially if you go a run and no one wants anything that drops.

RIFT took a similar path but with a simpler foundation, there are only 7 types needed and since there aren’t “classes” you don’t see gear that no one wants.  I mean, every Cleric uses tanking gear just like they all use casting gear.

Back on topic.  I’m reaching the point I normally come to when playing an MMO, lack of appreciable progress.  Going the dungeon route just leads to the raiding route, an end point I’m not a fan of.  Dailies could be their own topic.  How many times do I have to heal those baby serpents before you clue in that I’m a good guy?  Farming is what you think it is, except for the moving part.  There could have been massive progress towards player housing here.  Scenarios are a run for achievements type of event.  Challenge modes do not interest me.  Pet battles are an interesting side project though.  I think I can stretch this out a couple weeks until Storm Legion comes out.

A Man and the Sea

WoW Fishing

In the real world (what’s that!?) I love to fish.  I enjoy catching the fish, certainly, but I much prefer the act of fishing.  I could stand hip deep in water, just casting for hours on end, without the need for a single bite.  The concept of the “heroic journey” applies here.  The actual activity is the reward for me, not the end goal.

I remember playing Link on my old GameBoy and spending way too much time in that fishing game.  I’m sure I spent more time fishing in OoT than I did actually playing the rest of the game.  In contrast, I don’t enjoy the “bass pro” games since they are reward based, not activity based.

I was a GM fisherman in UO back when all you got was fish.  I had more than one actually, quite a few sea captains.  It was unexplored country for nearly 3 years.  The sea community was something to behold.  When treasure hunting came around, all of a sudden everyone and their aunt had a boat and it was like downtown at 5pm. All we were missing were the horns.  I fished in EQ too.  It had even less to offer than UO other than something to do while waiting for the boat.  /gems eventually came in to supplement that.

Then WoW came around and for 2 years, fishing meant nothing to the masses.  It was a massive timesink (was until Cata actually) and just something you did to have fun.  BC brought in the use for fishing pools and some quests as well as the first fishing tourneys.  LK brought another fishing tourney and made fish a requirement for raiding.  Cata pretty much ignored fishing.  Panda-land has a fishing quest hub (which oddly, rarely has anything to do with actually fishing) that can provide some neato rewards.  Still, since the rewards require a massive time investment (say 5000+ successful fishing casts @ 10sec per cast) and the rewards are all flavour, you have very few people trying it out.  Other than the blip during LK, the fishing community has been a small one and a friendly one.  El’s Anglin’ is a super example of that laid back attitude.

Rift has fishing as well but it seems to be more of a mini-game rather than a leisure activity.  I still enjoy it tremendously but the zen-like feeling just doesn’t seem to be there.  WoW has many spots that are clearly for fishing.  I have a favourite pool in Jade Forest with nothing around but peaceful wildlife and mountains.  Rift doesn’t have quite spots – at least none that I can see.  There is no peaceful repose.  Hopefully the expansion pack will cover that portion as I think the actual fishing mechanics are stronger in Rift.

Imagine that, a heroic journey by fishing pole.

Imagine That

One of my favorite things in Rift is Instant Adventures.  You can start these practically at level 10 and they throw you into random quests with a group of people, up to 40 I think.  Could be escorting someone, could be protecting a specific area, could be killing a boss, could just be random attacks.  The point is, that in a small timeframe (well under a minute) you can join a group of people and have fun.  You can continue to do this all the way to 50.  Probably all the way to 60 with the expansion pack around the corner.  Rift is certainly defined by the ease of grouping.

WoW this expansion re-introduced group quests, called them scenarios, only allows 3 players in one group and locked them to level 90 only players.  It takes about a minute to start one and to complete one can take 5 minutes like it can take 20.  Plus, if you slack for 30 seconds, you could kill everyone around you.  No /afk for you!

The metric for short adventures is the “fun” stick.  Do I have fun?  In Rift, the answer is yes.  Each is different and the people make it fun to boot.  In WoW, the answer is yes, for now.  While the Rift rewards are always relevant, the WoW rewards stop being relevant once you have dungeon/faction equipment.  Since scenarios are fixed stories, once you’ve run each a few times, you know exactly how they will work out the next time.  Small groups made of players from different servers doesn’t make for community either.  Mind you, the people who DO select scenarios in the first place are people who aren’t necessarily gear hunting but looking for something different.

I do wish they were available before level 90 though.  They are such a nice addition to the game but they are put in such a place that people have to make a conscious decision to partake in the fun.  Do you run dailies for 15 minutes?  Do you run a dungeon for 45?  Do you run a scenario that only rewards cash (and story) for 15 minutes?  Or Raid, or pets, or god knows what else.

I’ll keep giving them a shot.