RIFT is now free to play. Rejoice! Or don’t, if you’re not a fan of RIFT.
I’ve always loved RIFT. I loved it in beta, and played for a while before the dreaded Mid Levels set in, at which point it fell prey to my inability to give a shit about continuing in the same vein for the remainder of the level stretch. However, before I was carried through the dungeons in World of Warcraft, RIFT was the first game in which I actually did a dungeon run. Seriously. After…almost two decades of MMOing. It is special to me.
But like wind, tides, the magnetic poles of the Earth, and underwear, things change, and since RIFT was one of the few AAA MMOs that was still sportin’ a subscription model, it was logically due to follow the trend of converting to free to play. I think this was the last MMO on my list that I hoped would convert, so I can now safely say that I shall never pay a subscription to another MMO for as long as I can remember that I made that promise.
Free is always good. Trion went with the “totally free” method, where you don’t have to buy content packs in order to progress. There are still some things you need to buy, or can buy, to flesh out the experience to match what you’d get as a subscriber, but in all seriousness, if you’re that into the game, you should consider supporting the team and get a sub.
The best part of the conversion is also going to be some people’s worst nightmare: the cash shop. I’ve always like Cryptic’s shop in Star Trek Online for the amount of stuff they have, and also The Secret World‘s shop for it’s customization options. RIFT merges the two: they offer a staggering amount of stuff, including an obscene amount of vanity armor and clothing. If you want your guild to rush the field in uniform, you totally can! You can also buy parts for your Dimensions, both cosmetic and practical, like stone slabs and wooden boards, if you can’t be bothered to craft or find them. For unlockables, you can now buy additional crafting professions beyond the standard three, making alts less necessary (but also making fatter wallets necessary).
They also have some kind of “Loyalty” program, which I’m not fully knowledgeable about. Being a past subscriber earned us points based on how long we subscribed, or something, and the more we play going forward, and the more money we spend in the game, the more points we’ll accrue. You don’t spend them so much as you simply absorb them, and when you reach a certain threshold, perks unlock. I got the above-pictured horse as a loyalty perk, and a nice Dimension, along with other things.
The cash shop also allows you to dump your grey items from your bags while out in the wilderness. That may seem inconsequential, but it’s attention paid to a minor benefit that speaks volumes about Trion’s ability to focus on the player experience.
Some folks are already up in arms about the few items in the shop that actually have stats on them. Generally in the West, this is the Ultimate No-No: no pay to win. But while I didn’t scrutinize every item in the shop, the few that I saw that had stats (indicated by a big upward pointing arrow on the item’s row in the list) were so minor that they would really only benefit brand new players, if that. I did notice that there was gear in there that was level locked, and well above me, so it might be relevant to those more advanced players.
But I maintain that you can’t pay to win a PvE game. In addition, RIFT has been out for long enough for serious devotees to have collected a stable to level-capped alts. Is the thrill of grinding content still so strong that a shortcut for the nth alt is so unpalatable after all these years?
I got nothing. RIFT is a gorgeous game. An unfortunate number of worlds are built as giant speed-bump mazes who’d primary function is to force players to take the long way around in an attempt to maximize time spent in the game. On the flip side, large, wide open spaces trigger my boredom reflex. RIFT seems to pack it’s world with some seriously beautiful visuals that are just there to be beautiful. And It’s one of the few games where I keep the music on. As much as I like game music, looping the same track for a few hours numbs my brain.
The only downside is that I quit the game once out of boredom, so there’s always the possibility that I’ll quit again out of boredom. But time has passed since I last visited Telara, and I know that my mentality has changed and is continuing to change. Since I have such a soft spot for RIFT, and since the only reason I hadn’t gone back sooner was because of the subscription, I’m hopeful that I can plow through the game this time around.
Despite their relatively youthful status, MMOs end up with some of the lamest, most overused bitch-fests this side of a console FPS. The really sad part is that for as long as there have been MMOs, there have been similar arguments and complaints that seem to be “baked in” to each and every game, standard and free of charge. The latest trend towards free to play is generating a whole new bumper crop of asinine sentiment, so now’s as good a time to break ourselves of these habits, and re-learn how to enjoy our entertainment.
5. This Game Will Be Closed in [Insert Random Number of Months]
No armchair pundit has the insight to make this statement with the actual certainty with which it’s typically presented, yet it always appears on the forums within the first week after launch. I think that the majority of us read this and understand that it’s really born out of the writer’s frustration and dissapointment, but I’m sure that at least one poster, somewhere, and possibly ALL people who post these kinds of posts, actually believe in their abilities to prodict the future.
Here in the West, companies aren’t actually that quick to shutter their MMOs. Yes, it’s happened. Yes, it’s happened quickly, There are scads of games which have suffered horrible setbacks, some technical, some financial, but those games are still operational. Many of them are so low level you might not have heard of them, leading you to wonder how they survive at all. For large companies like EA, it’s easier to close doors because their eggs are in many baskets, but for many companies, their game represents their entire reason for being. They’ll sell their children before they close the servers, and at that point you know it has nothing to do with how Johnny Gamer feels about his avatar’s running animation.
4. Cash Shops Are All About Greed
Free to play is a great innovation that was pretty much a swear word less than five years ago here in the West, mainly because “F2P” was synonomous with “cash shop”. Why the hate against cash shops? For one, we were still in the grip of the “subscription buffet” model where people believed that $15/month was a small price to pay for everything under the sun. Having to pay incremental amounts for what, in many people’s opinion should be standard was an affront to common decency. Companies that implemented cash shops were purposefully trying to scam players out of cash by forcing us to buy our games piecemeal.
With 500,000 subscribers at $15/month, that company makes $7.5 MILLION dollars a month to keep the servers running and their employees paid. With 500,000 subscribers and no monthly fee, a company makes exactly $0 a month, which means they need to fire their employees and shut down their servers. I’m no accountant, but I think that in order for an online game to operate, for bugs to get fixed, for new content to appear, we need to accept that while we like the idea of having something for free, it’s not really free as in beer. It’s free as in if you really like it, support it by buying some cosmetic items.
3. Cash Shops Are P2W
This one has always baffled me because the majority of MMOs are PvE. Saying that a cash shop is all about “paying to win” implies that there is something to win, and that the cash shop offers items that give one player an advantage over another.
If Western games were organized like some Eastern games, then sure: spending your way to victory would be problematic, as we’d have to pump money into the game on a regular basis just to stay alive. Who wants to do that? (*cough*real life*cough*) Most Western cash shop content is focused on cosmetic and vanity items, services, and convieniences. The only time your buying an item in a cash shop helps you “win” would be if the shop was selling an item that could be used in PvP, but no legitimate Western operator believes that it’s a good idea to unbalanace their game like that, except when you have an avenue to earn that same item just through normal game play (Tribes: Ascend and Planetside 2, for example).
2. F2P Games Attract Asshats
Whenever a new F2P game launches, or especially when a previously subscription-only game makes the switch, current players get all uppity about the impending influx of dirty, uncouth know-nothings that will descend on their pristine, happy family, crap on it’s lawn, trample it’s flowers, and set it’s guild houses on fire before departing to the next game they intend to ruin.
While F2P removes barriers and allows those who were wary or unable to pay a monthly fee to try the game, I’d be willing to bet that for an older game making the transition, the majority of players who show up were players who had left the game. Not everyone leaves out of boredom, having reached the cap in the first week, crapping on the lawn, and setting fire to the guild houses before they flipped the game the bird and moved on. Some folks just burned out, or couldn’t afford the monthly fee any more. Now, having had their vacation, and being invited back for the low price of free, why wouldn’t they return?
Besides, jerks ALSO have credit cards, too. Credible studies show that many of them are elitist as well.
1. Arguing About World of Warcraft in General Chat
Like Godwin’s Law, the Law of General Chat states that “no General Chat channel in any MMO can go more than 30 minutes without someone arguing about World of Warcraft”. WoW is as obiquitous as oxygen. No matter hor hard, how fast, or in what direction we run, we’ll never emerge from WoW’s monumental shadow, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the General Chat of any MMO-that-is-not-World-of-Warcraft.
We’ve got people comparing this game to WoW. People who bitch about WoW. People who tell stories meant to let people know how awesome they were in WoW. Makes you wonder why these people and WoW don’t get a room…a room that isn’t the General Chat room.
The thing about video games that makes them different from books or movies is that each person’s experience is different, but more importantly that each game allows players to have different experiences. Why ruin your potential and future experience in this new game by concluding every undertaking with “That was fun, but in World of Warcraft…” It is the opinion of this blog that every game deserves to be experienced, judged, and enjoyed on it’s own merits, and not based on how it stacks up to World of Warcraft. If all you can do in a new game is to talk about ANOTHER game, then maybe you’re not ready to move on to another game quite yet.
The Gateway is in beta, as is the game (“beta”), so it may not be working 100%, and not all features are enabled, possibly, but so far, it seems to be firing on all cylinders for what I’ve been using it for.
So what is Gateway?
- It’s a way to view your character online
- You can buy and sell through the auction house.
- You can send and receive in-game mail
- You can do…stuff…with your guild (Not in a guild yet, so I don’t know what is offered)
- You can update your professions progress (crafting)
I’ve been playing MMOs since the dawn of the “modern” design, and the one concept that has always been at the forefront of conceptualization was the idea that so long as we’re accessing game data through a client via the Internet, why can’t we access the same or a subset of data through other clients via the Internet? Granted, we’re talking about product data, which is essentially what we’re paying for, and what we’re paying the operators to keep safe on our behalf, so there’s the data integrity concerns, but if a company employs enough smart people who can create and run a real-time game that allows thousands of people to simultaneously dance naked in a virtual town square, I think they’d be up to the challenge of creating a web app to allow me to check my auctions and launch my crafting tasks through a browser. Why this hasn’t become standard is beyond me.
Granted, not everyone wants or needs to take care of game business…you know…from work or school. Here’s the thing: we’re rapidly transitioning from a gated model of online gaming to an honest to goodness ‘Murican buffet model. We have so many games to choose from that we buy them now at stupidly low prices or download them for free and promise that we’ll get to them some day before we die. Loyalty of the customer is, quite frankly, a thing of the past, or is relegated to those few with unusually strong wills. Not everyone can make a good product, which means even fewer people can make the kind of product that causes people to forego all other opportunities that are too good to pass up, or that they’re peer-pressured into adopting. If you want to attract people, and more importantly, to keep them playing your game, why not give them the opportunity to never leave? It’s an insidious plan worth of Illithid, sure, but it’s wrapped up in so much fun that folks will thank you for the privilege. Thanks, Cryptic!
More importantly, and as loath as I am to say this, the ubiquity of mobile devices practically begs for some kind of way to play without playing, and for companies to keep their product in the thoughts of it’s users no matter where they go. To be honest, if your online game isn’t offering some kind of portal that gives your players an opportunity to keep playing while on the go, I have to wonder if you’re as dedicated to being as “cutting edge” as your About Us page claims you are. Technically, this would have been cutting edge in 2000. Now a lack of extra-game tools is just a gaping hole of pure let-down in 2013.
Defiance is available on PC, Xbox, and PS3, which means that on a purely statistical level, 2/3 of people playing the game haven’t played an MMO before. I don’t actually believe that’s the actual ratio, but for the sake of argument, we need to acknowledge that there WILL be people who play nothing but consoles, and who have never approached a PC for gaming, let alone MMOs. In fact, one such example is the reviewer over at Xbox360achivements.org who talks about Defiance in this morning’s review.
The poor 360 players seem to be getting the royal shaft with this title. There seem to have been more troubles with Defiance on the Xbox than on any other platform, and a lot of it seems to be on the back end. If this were Trion’s first rodeo, it might be easy to point the finger at them, but they have always been amazingly responsive to issues in Defiance and RIFT, so it’s entirely possible that the Xbox engineers have been caught with their pants down. Microsoft has always been more hesitant to allow this kind of game on their console, and I think it’s coming back to haunt them. Consider this the “growing pains” for Durango, I suppose, but that’s not the point I want to raise here.
The review isn’t very favorable, ending with a score of 65/100. I think the author’s dissatisfaction stems from two conceits: that he’s exclusively a console gamer, and that he has little to no experience with MMOs. Console games generally are more focused on wringing the best visuals from the system, and not necessarily experimenting with alternative game play, so the author finds that Defiance is a pretty lackluster CONSOLE GAME compared to other, somewhat similar console games that he has experience with. Defiance doesn’t have the visual fidelity, or the console-specific focus that allows for a tighter, easier to manage UI, so in this aspect, I think it’s reasonable to give his opinion it’s due.
We long-term MMO players, however, might read the review and gloss over 98% of his dings for the game’s “MMO-ness” because they’re all aspects that we have (often begrudgingly) come to accept. Calling out the wide open world and the ability to play with others at the drop of a hat may make us nod sagely — welcome to the wider world of gaming, my friend! — but our vision might cloud when he takes exception with missions that seemingly go on forever, and seem to have no overarching point. We MMO players know this on a cellular level, but as is often the case, we’re so immersed in the genre that we can’t articulate the forest for the trees, something that this author does with ease because he comes at the MMO aspect of the game with no previous baggage. He can speak about Defiance’s “MMO-ness” with clear vision, and in doing so, raises points about most MMOs out there that we instinctively know, but may not have been able to talk about with such surity for a long time.
As a console game, Defiance may not on par with Call of Duty or Halo or Gears of War, and in my circles, I think the agreement is that as an MMO, it’s pretty OK, but not revolutionary. None of that really seems to be making a lot of difference in people’s enjoyment, though, as from where I sit it seems that the vast majority of people really like it. I’m not so interested in the opinion of the reviewer on the game as much as I was fascinated by the view of a non-MMO gamer on an MMO game, because it’s been so long since I felt objective about MMO mechanics that it was refreshing to see how someone who is not as steeped in the genre views the aspects that the rest of us have taken for granted.
Ah, The Secret World. You launched during a rather unfortunate period in MMOdom, preceding Guild Wars 2 by a few weeks. Many people had long since committed themselves to GW2, and with your business model relying on a monthly subscription, tons of folks took you out for a spin, but the end result was widely the same: “Great game, but if only it didn’t have the subscription…”
Today — 12/12/12, incidentally — FunCom has yanked the subscription for TSW, which should give many people pause. The game is now buy to play (buy the box, play for free), so those who said they’d wait for when it converts…it’s time to put your money (figuratively speaking, of course) where your mouth is.
TSW is adopting the GW2 model, which is telling. After the horrific train-wreck that was the last high profile F2P conversion — you all know of which I speak — FunCom isn’t hedging here. They’re going with what is undoubtedly the most popular and least odious model. You still have to buy the game, but once you do, everything else is free. No arbitrary content locks. You get what you’d have gotten had you been a subscriber last month. If you wish to subscribe, you get an XP booster, $10 worth of cash-shop tokens each month, a free gift every month (like free clothing!), and a 10% discount in the cash shop. Lifetimers get this, but their cash shop discount is 20%! For the full rundown, check out this sexeh FAQ!
One downside is that they’ll be pulling back on their Issue updates. They tried for monthly, but this is a technical field; delays are unavoidable. FunCom will be releasing their updates less frequently than before, but certainly more often than a lot of other AAA MMOs do. Quality of life updates will be free, but larger updates will follow the DLC model, and can be purchased through the in-game store using the FunCom currency.
I have never regretted pulling the trigger on TSW‘s lifetime sub. It’s a unique game in a sea of elves and space marines, and it’s the true torch-bearer for MMO storytelling. I can’t play this at night, alone, in my dark basement because the atmosphere is that thick; Not an easy thing to pull off in a game that needs to be all things to all people. I really love TSW, and am very happy to see them opening the gates to all those who bemoaned the subscription.
So join the Templars on Arcadia! No pressure. Or is there…?
Remember a while back when I said that Guild Wars 2 was my “unicorn game”, something mystical that had never been seen before on this Earth?
I may have jumped the gun a bit.
I’ve been all over the map for a few weeks now, having scaled back my GW2 time significantly since before the Halloween events. Part of it has to do with the blah of the zones that I’m in; sorry, I just don’t “feel” them anymore. Once I got the gist of these dynamic events and everything, it became more mechanical than anything: hit the collectibles on the map for 100% completion, so the daily stuff that needs doing, move to the next zone. Meh. I can do that in any game, really.
Beyond that, the Wombattery has declined. Naturally, the all time high body count of just around launch could never be maintained. We Wombats have a known history of gaming promiscuity, and there’s really nothing epic about this game that would cause us all to nail our feet to the floor and repent our flighty ways. Some have found their home, which is like finding a home for a shelter animal; you’re always glad they’ve found a happy place. But the majority of folks seem to have gone their own ways, and once I got used to having so many people excited about the game as a whole, it’s really, really hard — damn near impossible — for me to care about playing in a vacuum.
GW2 is fun, and well built, and I never blame a game for my ADHD. I really thought this one was The One, but it’s not. I’d uninstall it for the precious space, but I bought my wife a copy, and feel that I need to keep it there on the off chance that she might want to play. I’m sure it’ll end up back in my rotation, as so many top-shelf MMOs do, but I can’t say when.
Thanks to MoxieDoodle, a new Kickstarter campaign was brought to my attention. It’s called Greed Monger, and it’s a game in which you apparently monger greed. I don’t know what that is, but according to the KS page, it sounds like an MMO for those of us tired of the incessant focus on hotbar-centric combat combat combat. The short list description includes an empty world – no shit, really empty, except for trees and animals and monsters – where you build all the things, including armor, weapons, and most importantly, housing. For $20, you get a plot of land (up to 4 plots!) and you decide what to do with it. Leave it open and charge players to hunt or harvest, or you can add a house and live life to the fullest, making furniture and decorations to sell through your NPC vendor.
The citied influence comes from Ultima Online, which was Sandboxious Maximus in it’s heyday, allowing many of the same perks as are listed above. I also detected a whiff of Star Wars Galaxies in there, but also an overpowering scent of Wurm Online. That’s kind of where I put the breaks on, so to speak.
WO is really one of a kind. It, too, is an empty world which allows players to buy land with real money, and to harvest the land to build houses, raise crops, domesticate animals, and so on. Each parcel is locked to the owner, so if you have a lot of trees on your land, you can prevent folks from taking them.
The idea is that sandbox fans will be so overcome with joy that they’ll link arms and skip down the rainbow road, buying up land and forming in-game towns where each person will bend to a particular task, and will share the fruits of his/her labors with the other players who make up the fair town. There will be hundreds of these player-created bergs, and inter-village commerce will flourish, and everyone will enjoy one another’s company, and learn the true meaning of cooperation.
In reality, there’ll be a land rush where those who get in early and pay the most set up camp in the most desirable locations, bringing along their friends to circle the wagons around the best resources. Anyone coming in later, or without a support group, will be limited to the dregs of the land, locked out of opportunities controlled by the land barons who are more interested in extortion than in creating a greater community. At some point, someone(s) will come along and find a way to specifically grief others through land ownership, and your plans to get your friends together to form a little hamlet end in frustration because you can’t find a contiguous area that allows you all to build nearby one another.
This is not just a Worst Case Scenario. It happened in UO – remember castles, which took up so much goddamn room? I’m sure SWG had similar issues. And don’t get started on my blood-boiling foray into Wurm Online. In each case, the plans look good on paper, when there’s no actual boots on the ground. There’s a lot of assumptions that people are going to both work together, and end up in conflict, but I think the grand plan is that it’ll be on a settlement-by-settlement basis, not a first-in-by-newcomer basis. Sure, there’ll be a lot of people who span the spectrum from kind and inclusionary, to total and utter douchenozzles, but this is the kind of design that’s has a built in allowance for a certain percentage of frustration. I can almost hear the shrugging going on – what do you want US to do?
OK, so it sounds whiney. It is, I admit. This game appeals to me. I like the idea of a game built around self-sufficiency, where you start with nothing and then achieve anything only through your own power. Working with others is additive, and beneficial for each and every one of you. But we’re not new to this. We know how “people” are. The prognostications above will happen, because they’ve happened before. It’s only a question of magnitude, and that depends on the opportunities offered by the game itself.
I pledged my money, enough for two parcels of land. I figure that one parcel was fine, but two is more breathing room. The chances of me expanding to three or four is pretty much nil, since three and four will certainly end up having to be claimed away from wherever I set down plots one and two, because someone else will abut my own property. Will there be enough people I know who buy into it, so we can make a go at starting a village? Perhaps. Will we all be able to find enough local property to not have to build around someone else’s planned settlement? It remains to be seen, I guess.
I was just made to examine my long cycle of MMO affinity. A lot of it happened before this blog came into being, or before I started blogging period, and as a result it’s lost to the mists of time. I still have fond remembrances of games gone by, but specifics are hard to come by.
I used to play a single MMO for months, maybe even years. My first was Ultima Online, back in the days before broadband connections. My friends and I played that game for…I don’t know, two years? I worked with one friend whom I played with, and we would spend all day (at work) discussing plans for the game. We did the same for Star Wars: Galaxies. We tried others, like EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot, but over time, my friends fell away from the MMO scene, or were consumed by World of Warcraft.
During the intervening years, I wandered from MMO to MMO, looking for…something. I wasn’t sure what. Maybe it was the unquantifiable power that the earlier games had on me that made me want to play them for so long. I stuck with Anarchy Online for longer than sanity could bear. Same with Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, and both were played through their disastrous launches. I ranged far and wide, into EverQuest 2, The Matrix Online, Earth & Beyond, NeoCron, and even Lineage II and Aion and other foreign imports. All were box-cost-with-subscriptions at the time, so I’ve spent more than my fair share of money on these games in this search for some elusive quality that would ensnare me.
I think the interest hit a low point with Star Wars: The Old Republic. A lot was riding on this one, despite BioWare’s insistence that they only needed a paltry number of players in order to break even. I played for a month…not even, I don’t think, and finally felt that my time spent in this genre was mercifully at an end. SWTOR was a bullet for the suffering horse of my MMO hoboism: If this game was to represent the pinnacle of almost two decades of MMOdom, then the genre was truly doomed, and there was no point sifting through ashes in the hopes of finding the home that once was.
I believe that for a lot of people, there’s so much MMO water under a relatively small bridge that it’s been a veritable orgy of online gaming experienced (relatively) all at once. We’ve had too much in too little time, and considering how long it takes to make these games, there’s no way that each one can evolve from it’s precursors. Like the Dot Com bubble, the MMO bubble saw companies falling over themselves to MMOize their IPs in the hopes of getting a slice of that sweet, perpetual revenue stream. While we were promised revolutions in gameplay, the development cycle measured in years meant that what were were eventually served was stale before we got our hands on it. It’s never really been that the games were bad. Players just get tired of being told that the next product is going to blow their doors off, only to have their doors wobble slightly by a mediocre breeze. One way of looking at it is as a different take on “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, which in this case could be called “The MMO Developers Who Cried Revolutionary”. We stopped listening, and got angry that we were getting nothing but retreads.
But as a professor once told me “time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana”. At some point, all of the 5+ years-in-development games had to come up for air to check the state of the market. Those who rushed in to get on the bandwagon suffered the most by valuing momentum of the market over the benefits of hindsight. The MMO genre is like a cruise ship: it doesn’t turn easily, or quickly, but it does seem to be turning. The Secret World takes us out of the Tolkien forests and puts in places which look an awful lot like places we’re familiar with. Guild Wars 2 throws traditional questing models out the window in favor of a focused story and a “stumble-upon” system. Subscriptions and buffets are giving way to free-to-play and a la carte, which just a few years ago was seen as the scourge of modern online gaming and a mark of low quality, but which is increasingly being embraced here in the West.
The tide is changing in the genre – slowly, still, but the motion is noticeable. MMOers have been clamoring for change with the misunderstanding that the genre could turn on a dime. It can’t, but I hope that we’re starting to move into an age were MMO designers have decided to stop chasing the idea of a “WoW killer” and have embraced the niche of those underserved by years of high-fantasy focus.
Myself, I’ve stopped chasing down every MMO that appears on my radar. I’ve stuck with a few core titles that I’ve returned to again and again, but by and large have deflected any porch-door pitches made by developer hype videos. Beyond TSW and GW2, I am unaware of any MMO in production. That’s not to say that there aren’t any, or that I couldn’t come up with a few names if I bothered to try, but both TSW and GW2 seem to encapsulate enough “second age” vibe so that I don’t feel the need to keep looking. I started playing in this genre for the long term, and was then dissatisfied with the unrequited search for some undefined ideal. With the benefit of hindsight, I feel comfortable with these choices I have at my disposal, and don’t foresee anything in the near future that would cause me to return to my wandering.
Combat has been the traditional “bread and butter” of MMOs for…I dunno. As long as they’ve been a thing? It’s not just MMOs, though, as combat is a fairly simple concept to grasp and implement (relatively speaking, of course), and is a natural fit for a “game”. Games are contests between two or more sides. There may be a single prize awarded to the winner, or maybe the goal is simply to best the other player(s). Combat – more specifically, conflict – is a situation that encompasses many emotions like sadness, anger, surprise, and excitement, and conflict through games is something that it seems everyone understands, thanks to the worldwide passion for sports as well as an uncountable number of analog games like poker, craps, Monopoly, and the bane of my existence, Pictionary (don’t ask). Combat in video games is a natural fit, because in the end, one player or side is victorious (either PvP or PvE), and the other side is dead. Conflict is a known and expected literary tope that provides a backdrop of almost all game worlds. In these worlds, the participating in the conflict through combat means there’s no ambiguity, as the winner feels the rush of endorphins and the loser is enraged enough to either try again, or to quit in a fury – something that sounds to be 180 degrees from what a company looking to increase retention would want to engender, but that fury can lead to an emotional attachment to the game in it’s own right.
When looking at the MMO genre from a higher vantage point than what a single game represents, the argument of “sameness” surfaces. As often as people call them “World of Warcraft clones”, it’s what consumers expect “different” to mean, and what maybe the developers mean “different” to mean. Which perspective is more important? Well, each side would argue that their definition is the more valid. People who make these games have to make the best decisions they’re able to make within constraints (i.e. what investors are willing to take a chance on). Players are the ones who are going to spend the cash to buy the game, and then maybe to pay a sub, or to spend cash in the cash-shop if they like what they see. If I was forced at gunpoint to make a tally, though, I’d have to say that, as the ones who are asked to accept the final product, the consumers have the edge. If they don’t feel that Next Big MMO really brings anything to the table that Big MMO They Are Already Subscribed To doesn’t have, then there is zero reason for them to jump ship. “Tiny” differences aren’t enough to make Next Big MMO stand out anymore, and players are making that known. It’s totally anecdotal, but there seems to me that there are more people who are fence-sitting or are flat-out shunning some recent and upcoming titles like TERA, Guild Wars 2, The Secret World, and The Elder Scrolls Online. Just a few years ago, the hype around these games would be an unassailable tidal wave of fanchild slobber, but it seems more and more people are just willing to leave them alone.
Although it’s unfair to lay the blame at the feet of a single mechanic, I keep thinking that if these games offered players more choice – more real, honest choice – outside of combat, that they could be more attractive to this hardened segment of MMO veterans who can get combat anywhere, in any game. The idea that “you can have it in any color, so long as it’s white” went out in the 1960s, but MMOs are still telling us that “you can make your own experiences in our world, so long as it’s through combat”. There’s always a little asterisk, of course, because all games have crafting and the ability to play the auction house and other “nth-tier” systems that fill crevasses of down-time when the design doesn’t expect you to be mashing hot-bar buttons and collecting boots from wolves for some laze-ass NPC. I’m sure that legions of players never engage in those nth-tier mechanics. Some are probably A-OK with the constant combat focus, and others never engage in crafting because, quite frankly, it’s not worth it most of the time. Beyond crafting there’s…what? More combat. It’s not that I’m advocating for a dividing line between systems that can never be crossed. There are those who wouldn’t craft even if it were a full-fledged system (like in EverQuest II or Vanguard), but there are also those who would probably appreciate the opportunity to engage in combat on Monday, crafting on Tuesday, and other systems on the other days of the week in order to keep their experience interesting.
Most current or future MMOs are like blankets. They’re uniform in construction and texture, made with the single thread of combat, but embellished with other design aspects that are advertised to entice us and to “differentiate” one blanket from the next. Maybe what we need is an MMO quilt, something that’s less uniform and more diverse – honestly diverse, where nth-tier systems are “real” systems, and not just expected add-ons. We should stop thinking about crafting as “downtime busy-work” or “time-sink while chatting” and more as an opportunity to give players a choice in how they want to spend their gaming sessions. Crafting is just one, known-quantity example, of course. Housing is another that’s well done in some games, done “ok” in others, but is absent in most, to the great sadness of many. Beyond those examples is uncharted territory that has to be a veritable gold-mine of alternative game-styles that have yet to be explored – probably for fear that untested systems would spook investors who are already wary of the letters M, M and O.
At this point, though, the implementation of the MMO genre is stagnating, driving away MMO fans who still love the idea the open worlds with unrestrained social opportunities in an always-on environment, but are simply tired of the inevitable outcome heralded by the “Fauxhawked Developer In Trendy T-Shirt” videos that promise (r)evolutionary design while showing impressive cinematics and playing soaring orchestral music. I think that it’s a good thing that players are seemingly becoming resistant to The Hype, but I’m worried that the signal is being read by the industry that the audience no longer cares about the MMO genre, which will force investors to move their money elsewhere – like into mobile – instead of using this as an opportunity to take real chances with changes that players might be asking for in a bid to win them back.
I knew about the chain system in TERA because it kept popping up skills for me to use after I triggered other, select skills. I naturally assumed that the system had some kind of innate progression, or of linked abilities that the game devs decided made sense to trigger in sequence, leading to an ever increasing power smack-down the more chain steps that were triggered.
Kinda. But man, I love the way TERA does it’s chains.
Chains are customizable. Every active skill that you have is represented in the column on the left. The column on the right is where you can drag another skill from your skills pool. This is the skill that will show up after you trigger the skill on the left column.
As a sorcerer, one of my abilities is a leap-back called Backstep. It’s super useful for a ranged caster because when things get too close, bad things happen to me, so it’s in my best interest to get the hell away from things. Plus, most of my attacks require some distance between myself and the target, which this provides.
Here, after Backstep is executed, I am prompted for Ice Needle I, which slows the target. So the idea is that I leap back, then fire this off to slow them as they approach, not only putting distance between the target and myself, but keeping that gap open as long as possible.
But wait! There’s more! Because every skill is represented in the left column, any skill you place in the right column can also trigger it’s own chained skill! I actually found this out by accident. So what I did was to add Magma Bomb II as the second step in the chain after Ice Needle I.
My strategy now is that when something gets too close, I use Backstep to leap away, which chains to Ice Needle I to slow them down, which allows me to use Magma Bomb II at a distance. Because these items are chained, I see a representation of the next step in the chain on the screen, and all I have to do is to press the Spacebar to trigger it. Not having to rely on TERA’s limited hotbar space, or to click or keypress something specific, has saved a lot of time, and has allowed me to keep enemies at a pretty consistent distance almost every time.
I really want to sit down and consider a chain that can be used to keep distance and to maximize damage so that an enemy doesn’t even have a chance to approach.