Instant Relevance

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King of Match Three

King

Yesterday morning was the Activision Blizzard earnings call for investors, and much of the focus has been on one particular tidbit of information.  They announced that they are acquiring Candy Crush maker King Digital for the sum of $5.9 Billion dollars.  The reaction to this announcement has been pretty varied, because in truth…  many “core” gamers loath the concept of games like Candy Crush.  First off there is some confusion to clear up.  Activision Blizzard is not the same thing as Blizzard Entertainment, so early reports I saw talked about Blizzard buying King Digital…  which caused some outrage.  Activision Blizzard is the big parent company that pulls all the strings of the various products from Call of Duty to Skylanders to of course the Blizzard franchises.  At first I have to admit I was taken by surprise by the announcement but that pretty much went away immediately when I thought about it.  In doing this deal ActiBlizz is essentially buying instant relevance in the traditional mobile gaming market.

Now you might be saying to yourself… But Bel, Activision and Blizzard already doing mobile gaming.  Sure they do… but they do it in a way that attempts to appeal to “core” gamers that are wanting something on their phone to play when they don’t have access to their normal gaming platforms.  This is a vastly different market than the one that King Digital generally focuses on which are for lack of a better term “casual” and “mobile exclusive” users that would never in a million years… consider themselves gamers.  Essentially King Digital targets people like my wife, that spends plenty of time playing games on her iPad but does not in any fashion think of herself as a gamer.  So in essence with this one… albeit expensive acquisition, they now cover a market that they did not serve in any fashion.  Sure Hearthstone is a great mobile game… but it really only draws in people who already are in the fold of “gamers”.  The big thing is all of these “non-gamers” have prove time and time again that they are in fact willing to spend money on micro-transactions.

What This Means

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In truth I doubt for the short term it really means anything.  Activision will continue releasing big budget shooters like Call of Duty and Destiny… and Blizzard will continue flirting with e-sports while still not quite certain what to do with World of Warcraft.  Another big chunk of this earnings report was a note that the WoW subscription numbers have more or less stabilized from their post Warlords of Draenor free fall.  I feel like there is some fuzzy math at work here, but according to the official figures they have dropped from 5.6 Million to 5.5 Million.  There was a strange little definition that was released to explain what they determined a subscriber.

Subscriber Definition: World of Warcraft subscribers include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the game and are within their free month of access. Internet Game Room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days are also counted as subscribers. The above definition excludes all players under free promotional subscriptions, expired or cancelled subscriptions, and expired prepaid cards. Subscribers in licensees’ territories are defined along the same rules.

This makes me think that these subscription numbers are in fact counting WoW Token players… seeing as how that would count as “prepaid” access.  So the actual month to month subscription numbers would be a bit lower.  To some extent I wish they would have broken those numbers out separately… since a monthly sub is semi-guaranteed income, and a token is a one time purchase.  The other big news however is that they plan on this being the last month they actually announce subscription numbers.  Instead they have a new sort of engagement number formula that they are working on to determine the health of the game.

At first glance this sounds a bit odd… and maybe like they are trying to hide losses within the cloak of mathematics.  However… we are just days away from Blizzcon and it makes me wonder.  Will this finally be the year that they announce World of Warcraft going to a free to play model?  Cutting the ties of relying on subscriptions to convey the health of the game… would at least be one step in that direction.  If I were Blizzard I would be seriously considering it… because honestly Free to Play seems to work.  With the recent high publicity relaunch of Wildstar… that game is doing significantly better now than it was, and the same was essentially true with Star Wars the Old Republic went to the model.  Free to Play has been the salvation of otherwise dying games… and even though World of Warcraft is far from dying…  I still think they would benefit from the switch.  It would be a massive shift in methodology and would probably change the way content is delivered, but it would also bring back a bunch of players that want to dip their toes in the game every now and then… but not feel like they are chained to a subscription.  Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone are both wildly success as Free to Play experiences… and with Overwatch starting to ramp up and following that same model…  it just seems like Blizzard has wrestled with how to make it work.

What I Hope Happens

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So while I don’t think anything will change for a bit… my hope is that through this deal there is some cross pollination of skillsets.  I would love to see better integration of mobile platforms and traditional games.  As you know I have been playing a lot of Destiny… and quite honestly the way that game works is just not as clean as it should.  There are a lot of things that you can do through the website…  slightly different things that you can do through the mobile app… and even a different set of things through the game itself.  The entire process feels cludgy as hell… but an attempt to move in the direction of giving players access to tools outside of the game.  Now if you take that basic desire and match it with a company that has proven that they can spin the same old match three schlock into infectious gold…  you can maybe create really interesting experiences that span traditional platforms and mobile gaming ones.

What I would love to see is a better mobile app for World of Warcraft.  Why can’t we fish on our mobile phones and have it grant skill-ups and materials for our characters in game?  Why can’t we do the normally tedious action of Archaeology in a mobile mini-game?  Garrisons themselves were essentially the same sort of thing as a tiny tower like mobile game…  why didn’t exist on mobile platforms allowing people to do the upkeep and maintenance activities when they couldn’t otherwise play the game?  Why can’t we have a significantly better auction house integration system?  Essentially…  give players a reason to stay in the game by making them feel more connected to it.. on their own terms.  A big part of my frustration with Garrisons is that I knew I had a one to two hour ritual waiting on me every time I logged into the game, before I could feel like I was free to do interesting things…  like slay internet dragons.  If I could do Garrisons while walking to my car at night, or on my lunch break… it would take some of that burden away so that I knew once I got home… I could do the fun stuff without having to worry about the “paperwork”.  Essentially we live our lives on our phones…  and the games that integrate better with how we live our lives are going to feel more “real” to us.

 

 

Performance Anxiety

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Cash Shop Fodder

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With the impending launch of the Wildstar free to play model, I thought I would talk this morning about one of my problems with cash shops in general.  One of the most popular items in any MMO cash shop is the “experience potion” for lack of a better generic term.  These are items that grant a limited duration buff and increase the aquisition of something.  These sometimes apply to experience but also pvp systems and token currencies.  They seem to be fairly ubiquitous when it comes to MMOs and they often times hand them out like candy in your introductory packs.  My theory is that they want to get players hooked on these early so they keep coming back to the cash shop anytime they run out.  Now if you had boomboxes in Wildstar you already have a few of these more than likely.  My problem is…  I never spend them.  I just logged into my Rift account to take a quick census and I am currently sitting on somewhere between 150 and 200 of these in various forms.  They are generally locked from you selling them on the auction house…  and since I am not using them they just take up inventory space.

The problem I have with them is that I feel like there is a value associated with them.  They cost money, and I want to make sure I get my most out of them.  So when a game gives me one.. I hold onto it forever never quite finding the right time to spend it.  If the potion is an hour long, it feels like I need to find the perfect time to use it when I will have an hour of uninterrupted time at the keyboard.  Even more so it feels like I have to figure out the optimal way to spend my bonus experience time.  I do a lot of running around aimlessly in video games, and when I have used an experience potion it feels like I am “on the clock”.  I have to get the most out of my time and need to do whatever I am doing with minimal downtime.  As a result I just end up crushed with indecision and so they sit in my inventory unspent collecting dust.  I end up resenting them being there, because they are taking up space that I could be using for other things.  I didn’t want them in the first place, and the game keeps handing them to me like they are important and special… and something that SHOULD be desired.

Performance Anxiety

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This just highlights a bigger problem I have in games, that I will  call performance anxiety for lack of a better term.  It is like there are times when I have to be super focused on the game and take it more seriously than I really want to.  When I sign up to raid I accept the fact that once the raid starts it is “go time”.  The rest of my game time however I want to be able to stop and smell the roses.  The problem is when I group with another living person… I feel like I am also “on the clock” and responsible for making the most of that time grouped together.  So instead other than dungeons and raids I actively avoid grouping with anyone.  That way I am only responsible for my own enjoyment and won’t feel guilty when I need to step away from the screen because my wife needs me, or the animals have knocked something over and I have to go investigate what they just broke.  The worst is when I am in an MMO and there are quest objectives to be done.  I feel like I not only have to be aware of my own needs… but the needs of everyone in my party and assure that they also accomplish whatever they need to get done before moving on myself.

I realize all of this is irrational, but this is the sort of mental struggle I go through each time I accept someone else’s group invite.  Most of the time I can steel myself against the anxiety and just push forward, but there are other times…  when I just cannot risk taking responsibility for others.  I talked some yesterday about my current desire to “hide out” and as such I thought I would talk a bit this morning about the other side of the coin.  Grouping with other people is often times a draining experience for me.  I shift into responsible adult mode, and step up to the plate like I know what I am doing.  I am willing to take on this mantle for my friends and my guild…  but I am rarely willing to take on this mantle for strangers. I realize most other people don’t quite have the hang up I do with grouping with strangers.  So when someone asks me to tank something, or dps something…  I always feel strange asking if it is a guild only group.  The worst of these experiences so far has been when it comes to partially queuing for raid content.  The anxiety that comes with tanking for strangers in a dungeon… is nothing compared to the anxiety of tanking for a raid group full of strangers.  For me at least it ranks among the least comfortable experiences, and I would rather simply do nothing… than queue with a bunch of people I don’t know.

Opening The Curtain

I get the impression sometimes that folks seem to think I have my act together.  The truth is I am just as strange and vulnerable as the next person.  I put on a really good front sometimes, and I do a fairly good job of pushing down my own insecurities.  You might ask yourself… why in the world would I be opening up like this?  Well the truth is that I know there are lots of people out there with their own quirks, that think they are somehow lesser for them.  My theory is that by showing the weak points in my own armor, that others might be more comfortable with themselves as a result.  Once this down cycle finishes I will be back to my normal self again, and the armor will go back up.  In the mean time I am talking about the things I am struggling with, in hopes that it might help someone out there.  We all have our own hang-ups and we learn to deal with them however we can.  My coping mechanism tends to be disappearing for a bit while my shields recharge.  Tonight I will be submitting myself to a raid group where I assume that we are ultimately going to have to PUG people…  even though every fiber of my being tells me to run screaming into the night.  There is a certain power in knowing your own limitations and forcing yourself to face them.  I’ve learned over the years that everyone is broken inside…  just most are better at hiding it than others.

Loyalty Systems

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Another Bonus Post

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It is bizarre that once again I have something that I absolutely have to write about “right now” instead of waiting for a morning post.  This makes two bonus posts in a week… so it has to go down as some sort of red letter day or something.  The problem being I am just about to write out a post that is going to make a lot of people upset, or at least I think it likely will.  That said I feel like I have to be the bad guy here and take the other side of the discussion.  What is it exactly that is worth making a bonus post about you ask?  Well today Wildstar announced the scheme for their new “loyalty system” and the rewards that come with it.  Going further than just dangling shiny objects in front of our faces, they also made a fair attempt to explain how exactly the monetization and loyalty accruals would go.  On initial viewing I didn’t think much about it, but it was not long before the twittersphere was buzzing with frustration.

If you examine the system more closely you see that the deck is stacked in favor of players who pay physical money, over players who are paying with their time.  This is most noticeable when you take the issue of C.R.E.D.D. the token currency the game has had for awhile that provides players with an alternate form of paying for their subscripting by trading in game platinum for a months token.  The C.R.E.D.D. tokens cost players $20 and then can be sold on an in game brokerage for a variable amount of Platinum that fluctuates with the demand on monthly tokens.  This allowed some of those early players to get in on the ground floor and snap up several months worth of game time on the cheap, and then has continued to allow folks to play largely for free at the cost of time spent in game farming currency.

Currency Exchange

When it comes to loyalty the equation is very much not equal.  The player spending the $20 for the token earns 4000 cosmic points, in addition to whatever platnium they get out of the transaction.  The player redeeming the C.R.E.D.D. for a month’s worth of premium game time only gets 1000 cosmic points out of the deal.  The initial complaint that I keep hearing is that the C.R.E.D.D. player is paying $5 more per month than the subscription player who is getting their play time for $15 a month instead of $20.  At first glance this logic makes a sort of sense, but it isn’t quite that simple.  In some game systems you are actually selling your subscription token to another player who then sets the price point.  In Wildstar however there is no actual transaction between two players, and a such it becomes hard to really equate the two.  What is ultimately happening is this…

  • Player 1 purchases a C.R.E.D.D. and indicates that they want to sell it.
  • The Broker NPC gives that player an amount of platnium based on the current exchange rate for that token.
  • Player 2 indicates that they want to purchase game time for platnium.
  • The Broker NPC gives them a C.R.E.D.D. token in exchange for an amount of platnium equal to whatever the current exchange rate is.

At no point did the player actually pay $20 for a month’s subscription time, but instead bought in game currency.  The second player spent a fixed amount of in game currency to gain a month of subscription time in lieu of spending any real world money.  The key benefit of buying C.R.E.D.D. will always be gaining a month of subscription time, or in the new scheme a month of premium access.  The loyalty being gained is just a nice added effect, and a thank you from Wildstar for keeping the system running.

The Restaurant Analogy

The deck will always be heavily stacked in favor of the person who is paying physical money to a free to play game.  The “free” players have a lot to offer to games, largely because they make a game feel alive and active.  In an MMO this is especially important when it comes to filling out dungeon finder queues, and providing items for the economy.  However the hard facts are that without folks actually plunking down cash and buying into the game, the games would not and could not exist.  I don’t know any figures for the MMO market, but the mobile game market has something like an abysmal 2% “conversion rate” or the amount of players who actually make an in game purchase.  Even if we are exceptionally generious and think that MMO players are more likely to spend money… you are probably still looking at something like 10% of the players spending money.  Think back to every game launch and the copious tweets, forum posts and blogs that essentially say the same thing each time…  “I like the game, but not enough to pay for it.”

In High School I had a good friend from a broken home that was one of four children living off of a super meager single income.  My friendly simply could not do a lot of the things that I could do, so often times I would subsidize a dinner here or a movie ticket there… because I valued his time and companionship and knew there was no way in hell he would ever get to do these things unless I did.  I never felt used in the equation, or taken advantage of, because having him along made my experience more enjoyable.  However if you think about going to a restaurant with someone who is picking up the tab for the entire table.  They are doing it as a way of appreciating your company, or because having you along makes the dining experience more enjoyable.  However shift for a moment and think about the Restaurant.

While no restaurant owner wants anyone to have a bad time, and they want everyone to get good service…  or in this case the awesome game filled with interesting things to do.  At the end of the day the person who matters the most to the restaurant owner and their employees is that person picking up the check.  That person is going to reap the lion’s share of the special service, and if they tip well are also likely going to get remembered and treated especially nice from that moment on.  That check and those tips go directly towards supporting the restaurant and its employees.  It makes sense that the person who pays the bill is the one that gets remembered and gets special treatment.  So in the case of an MMO the loyalty systems will always be stacked in a way as to reward the person who is willing to keep funneling more money into the system that keeps the lights on, the community staff paid, the servers running, and more content being created.

It Feels Shitty

At this point you are probably saying, “But Bel, that isn’t really fair and feels really shitty” and I agree with you.  It does feel shitty.  It feels shitty when your time spent in a game and your loyalty to that product is worth less than someone who is spending a lot of money on it.  The problem is I can’t really fix that, and I am not necessarily saying it is an amazing system, but just the way these things work.  The term “loyalty” always gets bandied about but I think it is a horrible term to use.  This is essentially a patronage or donation system, where the folks that are willing to pay are supporting the rest of the folks who are enjoying the system.  There is a quote that I have heard hundreds of times, that today I finally looked up the source of.  It was apparently originally attributed to the user Blue_Bettle on a MetaFilter article called User-Drive Discontent.

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

As much as I dislike the cynicism of that statement, I cannot argue with the fact that it is absolutely true.  When we use Google, we are making a financial transaction.  They are providing us search results and we are selling them our rights to aggregate the data in those search results and present advertisements based on it.  Similarly when you purchase game time with C.R.E.D.D. you are essentially providing a product that Carbine turns around and sells to other players for cold hard cash.  It is very much the modern equivalent of “sharecropping” where the company owns the game, and you pay with your time spent… and get free rent as a result and a small small share of the rewards.  Loyalty systems will always be anything but, so long as the equation does not balance.

Blaugust Games of Week – Week 2

Another Week Down

EverQuest2 2015-08-07 06-27-43-01 One of the things that I find easiest to blog about is when I am experiencing a new game, or re-experiencing a game after some time has passed.  As a result last week I started doing the Blaugust Games of the Week thing, and for the first week I posted  three vastly different titles.  While Marvel Heroes 2015 has been in my gaming rotation for some time now, Everquest II and Dirty Bomb were not and as such I spent a bit of time this past week playing both.  While I didn’t really talk much about any of the games this week, I hope some of you out there at least gave them a shot.  I spent the most time playing Everquest II on the Stormhold Time Locked Server.  It has been so strange starting from scratch without having some of my favorite leveling spots.  The later leveling zones like Darklight Wood and Iceclad Ocean are just better designed than the original Everquest 2 leveling process was, and as a result you could tear through them so much more quickly.

As of last night I hit level 10 on my Iksar Shadowknight, and in part I think I was doing things the hard way because I stormed right out into the Commonlands and attempted to start leveling off the mobs out there that tend to be significantly higher than my level.  One of the things that I had forgotten about the Commonlands were all of the Small Chests that drop additional quests.  At this point my quest log is full of level 15-20 Far Seas supplier quests that essentially ask you to kill X of a thing and then turn in the end result at an NPC.  I remember these being the bread and butter of early leveling, but I have to say the thing I miss is all of the individual neighborhoods of Freeport.  I think it was a huge disservice to the game when the revamp of Freeport got rid of these completely.  They are now instanced zones that you can only enter on specific quests, but I have to say these zones made up a lot of the feel of both Freeport and Qeynos and did a good job of explaining why the cities were the way that they were.  Of the three titles from this week, this is the one that I am most likely to keep playing because I am finding an odd enjoyment out of retracing my EQ2 roots.

Trion Theme

Since it is once again Friday it is time for me to pick another three games to talk about and suggest.  This time around I decided to go with a theme and as a result I am picking three games from Trion.  Again I am limiting my selections to games that you can download and start playing immediately without having to purchase a game client or pay a subscription fee.  My goal is to make it so folks who are stuck and in need of inspiration can pop into one of these games and get instant “blog fodder”.

Rift

rift 2012-05-31 20-38-58-07 Considering the announcement of the World of Warcraft expansion yesterday, I thought it was fitting to lead off this morning talking about Rift as it was the first game to actually pry me away from the WoW Juggernaut.  The game is designed in such a way so that in theory you can play one character and provide every possible role in the game.  This was not necessarily the case at launch but over time they have provided additional talent trees or “Souls” to help flesh out the missing abilities.  So now you can absolutely be a healing warrior or a tanking mage.  This game has an absolutely phenomenal early leveling game, and the first fifty levels are an absolute joy to level through.  The expansions however are a completely different thing.  I personally found both leveling in Storm Legion and Nightmare Tides to be extremely tedious, and found myself wishing they had not abandoned the early game that I enjoyed so much.

The core of the game though is great, but there are various things you are going to have to content with especially along the lines of ability bloat.  One of my key complaints about Rift has been that you end up with a lot of abilities where ability 2 and 3 are absolutely better than 1… but have long cool downs.  The end result is that you usually end up macroing all three together, which can lead to some fairly uninteresting game play.  That said the game excels at letting you literally branch out in any possible direction and build a character out however you want to.  There are some less than optimal options, but in theory any combination of three Souls will make a potentially viable character, which gives you a lot of freedom to customize things as you see fit.  Fortunately the game has an excellent set of prebuilt specs to at least get you going in the right direction.  As far as the free to play goes… it is among the least restrictive and there are not really any pay walls standing in your way.

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Trove

Trove 2014-09-25 19-18-33-410 I was lucky enough to get in on the first wave of Alpha invites for Trove and having played it that long… has been an interesting experience.  The game has changed massively in that time, and the key elements have shifted and morphed but the basic game is still the same.  I tend to think of Trove as Minecraft meets Diablo, and my recent Bel’s Big Adventure series of Minecraft videos has made me appreciate how important this really is.  Minecraft has a fairly horrible combat system, that is passible but frustratingly bad if you are going to spend much time fighting anything.  Trove on the other stand decided to go in a direction that allows you to pick one of several classes that each have their own built in abilities and a MOBA style character design.  I tend to have a natural synergy with the base Knight class, but have spent significant amounts of time playing the Gunslinger and Neon Ninja as well… and they are all extremely well built.  The core gameplay loop in Trove centers around going out into the world and fighting baddies to find interesting stuff in level ranged based worlds that steadily increase the challenge.

On top of this however there is a very awesome building system where you can build extremely complex custom worlds for your “Club”, or you can build out your cornerstone which is a traveling spawn point that you can move with you as you go out exploring the world.  I love this aspect of the game because it feels like I am able to take all of my most important resources and keep moving my base of operations as I go exploring.  The other thing that makes this game amazing is the community support, and the vast majority of the weapons that you will get were created by fans just like you.  The game has a silliness to it that is contagious, and I will forever cherish my Dapper Raptor mount that you can see above.  Another favorite of mine is the ability to collect item appearances and then make ANY piece of gear that you get look like that, so as you keep exploring you just keep opening more and more unique looks for your character. If you have never played Trove I highly suggest you download it and give it a shot.

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ArcheAge

ARCHEAGE 2015-06-18 11-13-03-53 ArcheAge and I have an extremely checkered past.  I was in the early Alpha process of this game and found the community to be among the most toxic I have ever experienced in any game genre.  As a result I pretty much actively ignored the game for some time.  However with some of the AggroChat folks started testing the waters and playing it… I decided to give it another shot.  The end result has been a pretty enjoyable leveling experience and allowed me to see just how subtle and nuanced the game really is.  I am not a fan of open world ganker style pvp… and early in the game that seemed to be extremely prevalent.  More so than that, the players seemed to revel in griefing others in non-combat ways as well.  If you AFK’d in town, someone might come along with a tractor and push you out into the middle of a dangerous area just to watch you die.  However all of those elements seem to have gotten bored and moved on, and what is left seems to be a bunch of generally nice folks.

The game play itself is also rather good, and while the quests are pretty basic the world is gorgeous and huge, and the class designs are really interesting.  While Rift has an issue with duplication of abilities, ArcheAge seems to be designed in a way so that there is natural synergy between talent trees without giving you a bunch of abilities that you will never actually use.  I have gone full circle on my opinion of this game and you can track the progress if you flip through some of my blog entries.  The game is absolutely playable on the free to play model, but there are some serious constraints.  Namely it is very difficult to do more than just one thing as a “free” player because every action is throttled by your abysmal labour points.  As a Patron player your labour regenerates when you are offline… as a free player you have to be logged into the game waiting on your points to come back.  The other huge constraint is that free players cannot own land, which means if you get very serious about this game you are likely going to end up subscribing.  However in the meantime the free model does allow you to get your feet wet.

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More SkyForge Thoughts

Controller Support

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One of the questions left unanswered from yesterday was whether or not the game had controller support.  On a whim I picked up my controller towards the end of one of yesterdays streams and I noticed that I could in fact control my character with it.  Today I popped into game with the mission of trying to test this theory out.  It seems that maybe they are working on controller support but that it does not actually work fully.  I could control my character perfectly using both of my analog sticks, and if I hit the A button on my XBox 360 controller I could perform any of the normal actions that require the spacebar.  However it did not actually seem to interact with the world, and pressing A when not hovering over an objective did not perform the jump action, which is normally the default action for spacebar.  I went so far as to go into the keybindings section and it would not let me bind anything to controller presses.

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Now of course if you wanted to go so far as to use Xpadder you could easily get this game up and running.  It takes care of the toughest part which is getting the analog movement feeling right.  My hope is that in subsequent patches it is going to add full controller support, and then this game is likely to increase significantly in enjoyment.  Left button spammy attacks feel less spammy when done with a controller button.  Since writing yesterdays post I have added another few hours worth of gameplay, and I have to say my verdict is still very mixed.  I even talked about it a bit on last nights podcast.  On some level I am feeling about this game much the same as I felt about Guild Wars 2 when it was in testing.  There is something that compels me to keep trying to figure it out, but at the same time I find it extremely easy to stop playing after completing a single mission.  The act of running a mission just wears me out, in a way that content in Elder Scrolls Online used to wear me out.  Things are so ridiculously tightly packed that on normal solo missions you spend so much of your time mindlessly grinding through huge encounters.

Isola Digs

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This morning however I ventured into what seems to be another large shared cooperative zone, much the same as the very first mission in the game.  It involved a series of around 25 smaller objectives that were scattered throughout the map.  The frustrating thing about this zone in particular is that the objectives were super linear, meaning when I tried to do my normal thing and hop off the path…  I missed an objective that I then later had to double back through the entire zone to go find again.  As a whole though I have to say I like this style of zone so much better than the little instanced mini dungeons I had completed more recently.  The game also feels better when lots of other players are wandering around, which greatly speeds up the amount of time it takes to burn through the various health bars of the bosses.  This tells me that a lot of my frustrations was simply that I was soloing content designed for groups to take down.  The fact that I could fairly easily solo content as a paladin, maybe points to that class being a little overpowered for this sort of thing?  Then again tanks in most games are adept at soloing bosses that were originally meant for a group to take down…  I am looking at you Deathknight.

SkyForge_FireWardenBoss The other cool thing about this region is that it seemed to be full of boss encounters that did not seem to be tied to a specific objective.  There may be a quest that I missed somewhere that opened these up, but from what I saw there was a fire, water and wind warden.  Above you can see me taking on the fire one.  The only thing missing elemental wise is earth, which I did not really see while wandering around.  I managed to get a few greens off these bosses, so my theory is they are just there to make your experience more interesting.  The boss fights with other players helping were significantly more enjoyable, but I could still shield up as a paladin and whittle them down until I succeeded.  There was only one single encounter where I even came close to dying.    At the last minute a wave of players rushed in and helped me finish the boss off.

Combat Still Repetitive

SkyForge_PaladinFinsiher2 All of this said… my problem with the combat still exists.  It just doesn’t feel like I can do anything interesting with the encounters.  I did add a new combo attack to my repertoire, and while I abused the hell out of it.. each individual fight still seemed to take a little bit longer than they should for the game to feel really “fun”.  The mobs still suffer from the same problem where they tend to be one trick ponies, and keep using the same attack sequence over and over.  There is almost always one thing that you should dodge out of, but other than that it is grind them down with your main attack until they are gone.  There are a lot of things I do like however when it comes to the interactions with other players.  This seems like a game where everything is open tagging, and if you are in an area and have dealt any damage to a pack… you seem to get full credit for the entire pack.  Similarly if there is an objective, it seems like everyone can click said objective, and that seems to have changed from one of the closed beta streams I happened to watch.

SkyForge_CryomancerHelp As a result I found myself wading into a lot of fights that I did not strictly need to just to help out the other players.  Unfortunately not a single one of them did I actually communicate with.  There are a lot of ifs about this game, and I am not quite certain how much I will be playing of it.  In theory I kinda dig the model of purchasing classes or having a slow tedious process of unlocking them.  To some extent I wish I had gotten in on the ability to play the Berserker, because I think that might be a class I would really enjoy.  I have heard that you can go to the training center and test drive all of the classes, much like you can test drive champions in a moba, so that might be one of the things I do next.  At this point I have played around five hours of the game, and I have enjoyed it just enough to keep me coming back to try and find the secrets that I seem to be missing as to why this game is really fun.  Ultimately there will be a point where I just give up on it, but I have not quite reached that yet.  After all it gives me a bit of a diversion from leveling my Dragoon and gearing in Final Fantasy XIV.  If you want to check out the last two videos I have posted since yesterday I will be embedding them below.

Port Naori – Instanced Dungeon-like Mission

Isola Digs – Open World-ish Shared Zone Mission

(was still encoding at the time of posting this… so might have to check back later)

Last Best Hope

Bel Folks Stuff #7 – Late Night with Jaedia

Rift_FOXFOXFOXFOX I have been pretty horrible about keeping any semblance of a schedule with the Bel Folks Stuff podcast.  Some months I release early in the month, and others I barely squeak out an episode before the month finishes.  This month is definitely the later as with other events going on I struggled to find a good time for me to record this bonus podcast.  I am extremely thankful that when I found a time my good friend Jaedia was gracious enough to make it work.  What makes it even more special is the fact that Jae is recording rather late in the evening.  It seems she doesn’t actually sleep, and might be some kind of new fangled android or something?  Joking aside we had a lovely conversation about all sorts of random things.

Since both of us have suffered with depression and anxiety for years, we touch a bit on that.  We also of course talk about gaming and what we have been up to lately.  We also get into the rules of how long you have to live in Wales before you have to start calling yourself “Welsh”.  Jae is recently married so we talk a bit about the transition from living together to being “married” that we both went through.  Jae at one point had five different blogs so we talk about the depths of her insanity and ability to compartmentalize.  We also talk about the happy medium we have found with being a general interest blogger.  It was a fun show to record and I hope a fun show to listen to as a result.

[Download Episode Here]

Last Best Hope

WildStar64 2014-05-14 17-53-01-005 Almost since launch folks have been foretelling the Doom of Wildstar, and not for lack of good reason.  The game had extremely anemic launch numbers, and as was announced during the latest NC Soft earnings report its box sales had trickled to a slow drip.  The current rumor mill of Wildstar going free to play was really spurred on by the announcement of their Mystery Box promotion.  So yesterday when they announced that the game would be shifting to a free to play model, this should have surprised no one… not even the most die hard of pro-subscription Wildstar fans.  While some Wildstar players are tending to wallow in the doom and gloom that comes with these sort of statements, I tend to view this as a potential new lease on life.  For whatever reason gamers appetite for a monthly subscription is next to non-existent.  Even World of Warcraft recently introduced the Token system allowing players to convert in game gold for subscription time much in a similar way to Eve Online does.  This leaves the last pure bastion of the subscription game being Final Fantasy XIV… and I would not be shocked if we see them implementing some sort of gil to token system eventually.

I am not saying the age of the subscription is over, but I think the age of subscription being the only option just might be.  I personally prefer to pay a single monthly fee for “all you can eat” buffet access to the game.  Some players prefer to try and play the game for free regardless of the restrictions.  Others prefer to purchase features “À la carte” and quite frankly I think in the current gaming economy a game needs to support all three models in order for it to gain permanent traction.  Wildstar I feel suffered from the same issues that Elder Scrolls Online did… namely that it launched during an exceptionally tight window of viability.  Too many things were being released during too short of a window and it caused the players to flit gleefully between everything that was coming out.  I know I personally left Elder Scrolls Online to play Wildstar and left Wildstar to play Warlords of Draenor.  Sure I set down permanent roots in Final Fantasy XIV during that time as well…  but most players do not do a great job of juggling more than one game at a time.

Free to Play is Not Doom

WildStar64 2015-04-17 20-28-57-98

More games have converted to the Free to Play model than I care to keep track of, and in no case has it really signaled a lasting doom for the community.  If anything the opposite is true as a flood of new players come rushing into the community over a few months.  When a game releases as free to play it becomes the shiny new thing in the view finder of the player base, and for a period of time everything old is new again.  This is likely the phase of doom that most players are dreading, because it means that there will be more than a few “how I mine for fish” folks flooding into your gated community.  The thing is… this too shall pass.  Not all of these new people will stick around and find footing in the game, and often times the most heinous of players tend to be the most fickle as well.  Within six months you will have a more stable population filled with the people who really do intend to set down roots in your community and stick around awhile.  Many of those players will probably even convert to subscriptions, but simply didn’t want feeling like that was their only option.

The free to play model is ultimately a good thing for many games because if nothing else it lowers the barrier of entry for new players.  This makes it that much easier for you to be able to recruit people into the game to join you.  I know with Final Fantasy XIV once they opened the fourteen day trial accounts, it became all that much easier to get my friends to give the game a “second glance”.  This also means that probably every player that played at launch is going to fire the game back up and revisit their characters.  I personally found the game greatly improved when coming back recently and rerolling as an Exile.  I don’t regret my decision to come back, nor do I regret snapping up cheap boxed copies of the game for months of gametime and bonus items.  The game is really rather good, and my hope is that with me stepping out of World of Warcraft for awhile I can devote more time to playing it.  If you find yourself in a situation where you are surrounded by “doom and gloom” folks, my suggestion is that maybe you find a more friendly place to hang out.  Over the long haul this will be a good thing for a game  that was so desperately trying to avoid falling into a death spiral.

Reaping What We Sow

Pax Packing

Tonight is my last night at home before heading towards PAX.  As such our world pretty much revolves around packing up the things that need packing and cleaning the house some more to make it nice for the house sitter.  I think at this point I have everything that I am going to need to both enjoy and “work” pax.  This is going to be an odd experience for me, because in theory I am the eyes and ears of MMOGames.com during the course of this trip.  In addition to that I am going to try my best not to let my streak of daily postings slip either.  As such I am writing this and planning on posting it in the morning… which while cheating is something I have accepted in the past.  In truth most of my posts during this trip will be along these lines as I intend to write up what I saw during that day from my hotel room.

The oddest experience for me is that I am going to have some actual media appointments, as in sit on the couch and talk to devs about their games.  I have a ton of questions, but at the same time I am feeling extremely self conscious.  Its like I am expecting them to immediately realize that I am not really a professional writer, and get kicked off the couch or something.  Sure I blog each and every day, and that has been one hell of a marathon, but for whatever reason this suddenly seems that much more real.  I would love to be doing stuff like this for a living, but I learned long ago that writing simply does not pay enough to even come close to offsetting the salary of a programmer.  So instead I will just pretend to be a “legitimate writer”, and simply be thankful that someone is letting me indulge that fantasy.

Buy To Play

eso 2014-05-09 18-41-57-458 For the several quarters it has seemed to me that Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar were like two kids sitting waiting on the bottom of a pool.  Each of them trying to hold their breath as long as humanly possible before admitting defeat and swimming to the surface.  Today Elder Scrolls Online swam to the surface and admitted defeat, announcing that they would be abandoning the subscription model in favor of a new “buy to play” strategy with an optional premium subscription.  That said I absolutely expect Wildstar to swim to the surface themselves rather quickly confident that they won this game of chicken… but no less battered for the challenge.  This was the year that the subscription model gave its last hurrah, and ultimately proved that the buying public simply was not willing to pay on a month my month basis.

I say this but it is not entirely true, given that World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and Final Fantasy XIV are each doing better than they have in years.  The subscription model is still very much alive and kicking, but unfortunately the folks willing to pay a monthly fee… seem to already be committed leaving only the game hoppers and nomads shifting from  title to title.  Awhile back I wrote an article calling Elder Scrolls Online my disappointment of the year… and in many ways it still very much is.  That said I hate to see them having to shift payment models like this.  I still like the idea of a subscription, but a game has to earn the right to see my monthly payment.  Final Fantasy XIV does this by providing a constant stream of new content.  World of Warcraft earns my dollar by simply being the first breakout hit to claim the market share and thus addict swarms of my friends who refuse to leave it.  Elder Scrolls Online just lacked the glue to keep me playing, and after my initial six months worth of subscription time I let my account go dormant expecting to play again when it hit the consoles.

Reaping What We Sow

Today I made a tweet, and as luck would have it my fingers got faster than my brain…  and it of course has a typo.  That said I pretty much stand by the statement… once corrected for spelling of course.  Game Companies are after all companies.  Developers, Designers, Artists and Writers all have to get paid for their work, and at the end of the day no one can afford to work for free.  Hell I couldn’t do half of the stuff I did with my blog, podcasts and the sort without a really nice paying job to back me up and fund my hobbies.  At the end of the day these companies have to make money, so they can turn around and invest in those resources that support their games., and that’s not even taking into account the serious costs associated with keeping up a server farm.  Sure single servers are relatively simple and cheap to operate… but when you are talking an online game you are literally talking about thousands of servers working together to maintain the structure that we demand be not only up 24/7 but also be relatively lag free.

So if we complain about blatant money grabs like the air drop scandal in H1Z1, or the constant limited edition loot box bonanzas in Star Wars the Old Republic and Rift.  We have to realize that all of it is entirely our faults.  The subscription model was nice and honestly and for the most part was a contract between the players and a company.  We pay them to keep rolling out new content, and keep the lights on… and we would get to play their games.  However at some point during the line that contract was broken, and we the players started wanting more for free.  I have gotten so tired of seeing comments like “I like the game, but I will play it when it goes free to play”.  If you like the game, and want to play it… you should be willing to support it.  I’ve subscribed to games for months after I stopped playing them, just because I believed in the mission of the company or the game.  If we don’t help the companies… they are going to keep  taking progressively more desperate measures to try and stay afloat and keep making salary.

Players Are Now Investors

I will be the first to admit that steam early access or paid alpha and beta programs are frustrating riddled with problems.  Ultimately I feel like that extra transparency bogs down the process and ultimately produces a confused product designed by committee.  The problem is…  we are quickly becoming the investors in the games we are playing.  Why are we now investors you might ask yourself?  Essentially the repeat failure of AAA MMOs means that a lot of the institutional funding is simply not available.  Would you want to fund an MMO after the state of Rhode Island was stuck holding a multi-million dollar bill for the failure of Copernicus?  Kickstarter has been an interesting catalyst for games development.  It has placed a power in our hands that we have never had before…  and it is not entirely a good thing.  As investors… we feel entitled to have our say in the way the process works.

I honestly miss the days when I could look at the games industry like it was some magical engine of creation.  When I could view it as being something that simply turned out the games I wanted to play without any real consequences attached to it.  The problem is… I know the consequences in the faces of friends that have been effected by the closure of studios, and the “cutbacks” in staffing as subscriptions faltered.  How do you build a family when you aren’t sure where you will be living in six months?  Maybe I shouldn’t care about the human costs behind these things, but unfortunately that isn’t really a luxury I have.  I write my blog and I make my quips, but at the end of the day I have nothing but the utmost respect for the folks that make the games I care about.  I can be petulant just as much as the next person, but sometimes I lose sight on the truth behind it all.  They make the games that we are supposed to have fun playing… and in doing so it is up to us the players to uphold our end of that bargain.  I am not addressing the people that didn’t enjoy a game, because that is the way it works…. I am talking about the folks that loved a game… but were unwilling to subscribe.