Ooh, so pretty

I *just now* received the first issue of E-ON. Woo!

That’s Eve-Online print magazine. They beat SOE on that. Bwahahah.

I always wanted to order it and got finally motivated after they announced they were going to run out of copies (and they have now).

I only had time to skim through it. It’s really, really, really, really pretty. High “production value”, I didn’t expect it. 66 pages full-color (next issue will have 76), magazine format, glossy paper. Lots of very good images, but also lots of text. Small text, I was actually expecting they were going to use something big to fill the space. Dev profiles, concept images, ship descriptions/sheets, design notes about the Titans, stories and guides. There’s only one ad from ATI in the backcover, the other few are about in-game corporations ads.

I want more.

It’s a really good idea for this type of game. There’s a context to write about things, the game has a huge breadth. It’s also useful to valorize the time. Things that change, how the game evolves, the corporations turnabouts, new ships and stuff. There’s a whole lot going on in and around Eve. It wouldn’t work for the other one-dimensional games where you already know all there is to know.

It seems they are also planning a trading-card game. Let’s see if they beat WoW on that as well.

(I also received Lum’s book a while ago and it is good too. I just don’t have enough time to read and comment… Hmm…)

When questing doesn’t really work

This is something I was planning to write from at least two weeks so that it could fit as a premise for some ideas I got and that are a sharp swerve from my previous positions.

It’s about the use of the “quests” in these games. What they represent, their appeal. And if their potential is fully used or if there’s still space for something else.

On F13 I wrote a short summary of the functional role of the quests in World of Warcraft. Which is a direct innovation on the very poor implementation and lack of direction and purpose of the previous games:

In a mmorpg the “kill10rats” model is about an “excuse” to disguise the treadmill. The strict purpose of this quest is that you gain experience and get loot. These quests are excuses so that the process seems more varied (kill10 this, then move and kill10 of that, instead of just plain grinding in one spot). Once you killed those 10 rats, you are exactly in the same situation of before. The quest is no more availiable and you pass on something else. But the quest itself, has no purpose or actual sense in the world. It was there as a pretence, not as a strong, motivating element. An “extra” in the game, not the subject of the game.

I want to move away from those “functional” considerations to see what these “quests” can be. DAoC is a game that has a completely different approach to them.

Here is an example.

Whoa! As you can see that’s a helluva lots of text. It’s crazy for those players that are used to the few lines of “context” (often humorous and lightweight) that come with a quest in WoW.

This is one of the newest quests in the game, added in the last patch with the purpose to give some Champion experience and fill some of the gap in that content. Their functional role is good, in fact they (very) partially addressed one problem I pointed. I also think that the writing is excellent, the same for the other 4/5 quests similar to that one. There’s really nothing to complain here, these quests are really well written and interesting.

But then I’m back to write, more or less, the same things I wrote about the graphic and content: a pretty surface, but, if you scratches below, there’s not much left.

The problem is the gameplay that is offered. While what happens “in the text” is rather good and appealing, what happens *for the player* isn’t really so breathtaking. I took this quest as the example because it actually takes advantage from the fact that “nothing happens” (see the last dialogue. when I did it I was really looking forward to a fight. It fooled me perfectly). But then we are still back at the essential. This is a fetch quests. A wonderfully written one, but still a fetch quest.

The gameplay here is:
– speak with “questgiver” (click, click, click through text till end) ->
– move to NPC1/checkpoint1 (click, click, click through text till end) ->
– move to NPC2/checkpoint2 (click, click, click through text till end) ->
– move to NPC3/checkpoint3 (click, click, click through text till end) ->
– return to questgiver (click, click, click through text till end) ->
– Got reward! Some coins and the Champion experience I needed.

I got the reward (reason to do all that) because I “endured” the process. 90% of the time I spent doing that quest was about reading, 10% was about running around (the directions were good, thankfully). All in all the quest was satisfactory and I liked the text. Still I was somewhat annoyed by having to read all that, and then read more, and then walk, and then read again. I had to repeat this for all the 4-5 quests and it was tiring. I’m also one of those players that just won’t do a quest without forcing myself to read everything and understand. I don’t want to leave anything out. And I think that, in exchange, I had to read something worthwhile.

Still it was a strain.

On Raph’s blog Amberyl (Lydia Leong) wrote a wonderful comment that also triggered my reasonings:

I’m not convinced that MMORPG players aren’t capable of reading, or don’t like reading. I don’t think they like reading the text that they’re presented in today’s MMORPG, in the context that it’s presented in.

You’re talking about a demographic that also devours 800-page Robert Jordan novels. Clearly they like reading *sometimes*.

That’s also what I’m convinced about. I have no problem reading and I like it. I do plenty of reading in front of the PC and I love reading in some old games (Ultima series, the two Ultima Underword, System Shock). But I have a problem with the “presentation” and the context. That’s exactly what doesn’t work and could be improved.

In the quest I brought as an example above the text seems to get in the way of the game, not part of it. Again, you are rewarded if you read it (well-written text) but it’s still felt as an intrusion. Something that doesn’t seem to belong there. An ‘extra’ text (once again) that in that case is getting a tad too much “inflated”.

Now the point is, Mythic seems to have some good writers, and then some wonderful artists. These are precious *resources* and they seem good. Isn’t there a better way to use them? Would it be possible to move the text there (without changing it) to a different context to make it more meaningful and with a more appropriate “presentation”? Is there a way to valorize that text?

I don’t mean changing the font and making it more readable. I mean transforming it in a *subject* (and value) of the game instead of just an ‘extra’ that most of the players would (and will) rather skip (the outcome is the same, your “duty” is to click till the end till you “ding” the reward. Nothing could go wrong).

The “solutions” to these problems will be the subject of another article. But I’ll anticipate that these ideas I have will be about recovering that functional purpose that made the text in those old games I quoted so relevant and… fun.

(continues here)

A few notes to complete the observations about the “quests” but that don’t add to the points I wanted to address here.

There are some noteworthy differences between the fetch quests in DAoC and those in WoW:
1- The amount of text (with the amount of text in one DAoC quest you could probably make 10+ quests in WoW)
2- In WoW there aren’t many fetch quests. The great majority of the quests pivot around practical gameplay, like kill things, collect things, explore, reach a particular point, figure out something simple, etc… Often a mix of all these.
3- When there are “pure” fetch quests or fetch components, they are mostly to be serviceable (purposes). Like leading the players in a new zone where they’ll continue the journey, make them discover particular spots, point to them in a precise way. Summarizing: to direct the players.

Quoting Raph:

Many many MMO devs disagree with you. I have heard many MMO devs cite “story” as the principal reason and strength for MMOs, for example. I happen to disagree with that, but there’s little doubt that this rigid control is a major success factor for WoW.

These comparisons give a good idea about the weaknesses of DAoC’s questing system compared to WoW.

(/sad that Raph didn’t comment my remark…)

It’s Pure Love between PC Gamer and SWG (NGE)

FoH’s forums are dead once again, but before passing out someone linked the scans to PC Gamer’s review of the latest changes in Star Wars Galaxies:

IT’S: Buggy – Desolate – Back to the drawing board

IT’S NOT: Got any depth – Fun – The way forward

27% – Disatrous
“Gives SWG more problem then ever”

And more:

“What a heap of junk”

“A failed attempt at resuscitating a dying game. Too many bugs and frustrating action.”

ABANDON SHIP: with a diminishing number of players, you may never group with others on a regular basis, thus missing out on the high quality adventures that exist out there somewhere.”

CRYING IN THE TERRAIN: Terrain plays a more integral role in combat now. You cannot attack through rock, which seems sensible enough. Infuriatingly, the reverse is not true. Mobs always appear to hit you even if they are hiding behind buildings or solid lumps of land.”

COMEDY COMBAT: A redesigned combat system with make-believe damage numbers makes it impossible to work out how much punishment you are inflicting. It’s an attempt to move the game from stat-watching to faster-paced action. Sounds good in principle, fails in practice.”

CLASS WAR: Classes are only given an handful of combat skills throughout the entire game. This makes combat a dull and repetitive stream of default attacks, a special move than a swift heal. Repeat.”

“Thirty-four professions were culled into nine ‘iconic’ classes. With no option to chop and change professions the classes are more nondescript than ever. Each of the combat classes are virtually identical, with no customization options to suit differing players’ needs. Abilities granted every few levels are now merely replaced with higher ranked versions of the same ability when you level up.”

“Jedi (the game’s only real melee class) are at disadvantage and ranged classes fail altogether because it’s impossible to keep a target singled-out when faced with more then two mobs that are close together.”

“The crafting aspect of the game remains similar, but the demand for items has almost disappeared. The weapon you use no longer makes much difference: a level 16 DH-17 carabine will kill your target as fast as a level 80 Krayted T-21 rifle. The abolition of item decay limits Traders to one-time customers rather then the repeat sale economy of the past. Money will soon be just a figure with no actual value, driving crafters out of the game.”

“There are no heroic characters in the tradition of the Star Wars universe, just your average Joes going through repeat missions on Mustafar, with nothing else to do.”

“Welcome to a game that has lost its identity, where everybody is nobody.”

“Nobody could have expected a total massacre of an two-and-a-half year old game in two weeks.”

And more:

Influenced by: Star Wars, Benny Hill
Alternatively: World of Warcraft, 94%


Now to maintain a glimpse of balance in the Force I guess I’ll have to link Darniaq’s optimistical hopeful “review”.

If that’s the popular sentiment, I guess we have to reconsider the comments that followed the announcement of those changes. Back to discussing whether “change is good” or not.

The problems pointed out by PC Gamer are the same that I collected and listed just by reading the impressions of the players on various forums:
These changes don’t seem to be for the better of the game. And, in particular, the implementation is terrible.

Which is exactly what I wrote in my comments as all this was announced:

My point of view is exactly the opposite. It’s the context (completely changing a live service) to be useless and the content (the specifics of the changes) to be relevant.

It’s only the quality of the implementation to matter here. If the quality is very high, the dissatisfaction would be easily reabsorbed. If the quality is poor, instead, you’ll simply fail to get both new and old customers and the context would be branded as “not convenient” for future, generalized references and commonplaces formed out of thin air that will be very hard to discard.

It’s really this simple.

What was important was to consider the resources available and figure out if there was enough “space” to do a very good work or not. SOE made its choice. We’ll see the results. These results should be always considered for the specific game and the specific changes. Not generalized and standardized as absolute principles.

I don’t support “change” just for the sake of it, in the same way I do not support fancy ideas with no foundation. What I’d like to see is working actively to deliver what was planned and adjust what you are creating with what you learnt along the way.

The truth simply depends on how “change” is executed and not “whether change or not”. I hate this generalization about “change”. If *this* change is well executed the players will finally reward it, if it sucks the game will pay an harsh price. The same would apply if we were talking about a brand new product.

People are RAGING against the NGE but what I read in the complaints is about NPCs shooting through walls, melee being retarted, and huge problems with the controls. Yes, they are hating “change”, but they are hating it because it’s, once again, an half-assed, incomplete *implementation*. IMPLEMENTATION. And yes, this is the fucking problem of SWG since day 1. They dragged the game in every direction possible, finishing nothing.

I said it in the past and I’ll repeat it. The HUGEST problem of SWG is the high churn rate of the developers. Starting from Raph. The game switched hands like the cheapest whore and its current status is NOWHERE SURPRISING. But there isn’t anything to learn from here, if not that without commitment, long term and STABLE commitment, you go nowhere. This is why it’s so important the managment in a company to keep things together.

On the same lines were the comments from TerraNova I quoted:

The problem is that SWG’s chief problem from the beginning has been poor implementation, poor communication, poor service. Koster’s design ideas went wrong when they got awkwardly stitched in late Beta to counterposing designs, when the center could not hold. They went wrong when they went live in a horribly unfinished state, with an underresourced live management team desperately trying to keep a very leaky ship afloat.

Unfortunately, the live management team seems to have ignored another long-standing criticism of SWG by many observers: that their design and implementation process is a disastrous mess. Never more so than with the NGE: whatever it is conceptually, in practice, it’s roughly on par with an alpha build of a MMOG.

And more or less the same is what Darniaq observed:

“For the most sweeping change to ever hit an MMORPG, SOE effectively gave the players a few days of notice. They didn’t seek opinions. They weren’t testing it for months on the public Test Servers. They didn’t have a long dialog with the players. They basically made the announcement, pushed the code to the Test Servers two days later, and as usual for them, regardless of what the players found on the Test Servers, the entire game was patched with it shortly thereafter.”

“As such, they have received a lot of complaints. These criticism though, from game forums to traditional mass media to industry professionals, are less about the changes to the game and more about SOE’s handling of it.”

“This system is both completely different and nigh incomplete. The reason there’s not much to say yet is because so much is left undone. Even true collision detection is not yet in, nor is it slated for another six months.”

“That the players pay for how poorly they are all implemented can’t mean we forget that they’re being tried at all.”

After these changes were announced I criticized three specific points:
1- How the transition was handled (communication with the players) (1, 2, 3)
2- Overall design (choices made nowhere solid or convincing) (1, 2)
3- Implementation (1, 2, 3, 4)

ALL three of these went terribly wrong as I feared. But the “change” itself wasn’t an issue. If not in the equation: change = increasing risk.

What was important was to consider the resources available and figure out if there was enough “space” to do a very good work or not. SOE made its choice. We’ll see the results. These results should be always considered for the specific game and the specific changes. Not generalized and standardized as absolute principles.

Then, sometimes, it’s also possible to hear some positive comments:

Still having fun in SWG. Not only the first fun I’ve had since the game came out, but this will probably be the longest I’ve been subscribed. Despite any problems with the NGE. I didn’t want to be a fucking moisture farmer, I wanted to be a badass Sith and crush Rebels under my heel. It’s too bad crafting is getting shafted so hard, but the focus on crafting all this time shafted the entire game.

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Pragmatic manifesto

(and I think I’ve finally “said it all”)

Are we trying to build an everlasting world or the next highly sucessful broad market MMORPG?

People in the room who think both goals can be achieved in the same product raise there hand.

Me. Unashamedly. I believe Raph too.

I summarized somewhere else what I think of this discussion: “doing better, not doing without.”

This discussion is *useless* if we cannot find better mechanics that retain ALL the qualities of the levels and then some. If possible new ideas aren’t unquestionably better, then we can as well keep developing and playing level-based games and be happy.

If it’s true that “levels suck” it’s also true that better models are possible. *And* that they can be more successful.

If you beileve instead that level up mechanics are the best we can have, then the premises of this discussion would have been proven wrong. Raph wrote those two articles because he obviously believes that there could be better models, or there wouldn’t be any reason to doubt of those level-up mechanics in the first place.

From my point of view this is a pragmatic manifesto. Not abstract theorization.

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Summing up: accessibility and long-term viability

Saving a part of discussion that started from here (original source)

Actually, I touched on that here and here, but lord knows I’ve said it enough other times too. :)

The first link discusses again possible ways to optimize the production of content. That has nothing to do with what I tried to say. My point is that the more you stretch the treadmill the more the game risks to break. And it will. The problem is not one of quantity, it’s the one of accessibility and viability.

If new players join a barren world and have no ways to reach their friends or where the whole community currently is, the game will die over time. No matter how good are your “retention mechanics”. It’s destined to collapse sooner or later.

WoW will collapse later because it is more easily soloable, so accessible. But the model is still doomed.

The second link only passes by the issue without getting it (it’s mostly a problem of economy and dynamism that I somewhat discussed here).

Newbies are reduced to one or two areas per level range, and the entire process of levelling up is seen as just “the prelude to the real game.”

This is true but, again, what I’m saying is not that the newbie experience is blander compared to the resources and value put on the endgame content (in WoW the endgame content is actually worse than the early game). what I’m saying is that, overtime, the newbie experience degenerates till the point the game becomes completely inaccessible because there aren’t anymore players around to group with, enjoy the game and experience what requires more than one player available and well balanced groups with all the classes represented. Which is what you said in the first article (that I liked more): “they (levels) are used to keep people apart” And spread thin, I would add.

Till the point where the “latter” game is completely isolated and anymore accessible. Or you are ALREADY part of it, or you are out. If a mmorpg is a flow of water, this equals to cutting off the fount. You will still have the players gathering at the end like in a pool (I often use the image of a dam at the level cap) but the water will stagnate and it won’t last for long.

So you can switch “overlook” with “not pinpointed well enough”.

Actually, what you write in the second link is the opposite of what I’m saying. You point out the problem of twinking and increased knowledge that brings to trivialize some parts of the game. While I’m saying that with less players around and without a strong community supporting the early levels, the newbies will find the game *too hard* and inaccessible to be viable and fun.

This is a general trend. I always totally agree on your premises and those articles are wonderful. But then I disagree on the conclusions, and, most likely, on the possible solutions.

Ah, but statistics without context will make liars of us all. Take the first graph you posted, a typical WoWCensus readout. By this metric alone, we’d decide OMG WOW MUST HAVE 99% OF THE CONTENT FOR LEVEL 60S!!! (which, not coincidentally, is a common forum refrain).

Yet one of the reasons WoW is currently selling 3 copies for every man woman and child on the Internet is the game’s breadth and depth of content. Although on older servers many players have progressed to the end of the level curve, the fact that there was no lack of content getting there is not insignificant. It delivered MILLIONS of people to the end of that curve. That it doesn’t then continue to provide huge swatches of content doesn’t mean the game is poorly designed, it means that however huge the development budget, it can only deliver so much content, and the development team chose to concentrate their efforts on the “missing curve” that you dismiss.

I really don’t know where you are trying to disagree here. I took those premises (like the “not enough endgame content”) to prove them wrong. Not to consolidate them.

Imho, WoW wouldn’t be a better game if it had another 10 instances at the current endgame. That’s not what I’m trying to prove. I’m just trying to say, as did Raph, that this model brings directly to an UNSUSTAINABLE siituation. And the game WILL collapse because of this.

1- The developers cannot keep up with the *increasing* demand for content.
2- The players need more content to remain in the game and have “things to do”.
3- The more content added at the endgame and the more the treadmill is stretched, the less the game will remain accessible for new players.
4- This can last till a point (stretching and more stretching). Then it breaks.

You said that the problem is that there’s not enough content at the far end of the curve. There will *never* be enough content, because the time spent by players at the endgame dwarfs any development team’s ability to create challenges.

But that’s my point as well! I’m not going against that idea, I’m proving it.

This is why there’s so much attention paid to procedurally generated content and player-generated endgames (political, combat, cooperative, whatever) because no matter how much content you create, you not only aren’t going to keep up, you also with every addition run the risk of invalidating large swatches of the rest of the game by throwing off the power curve somehow. (Treasure that results in players becoming exponentially more powerful, for example.)

And here’s another point (where I strongly disagree with Raph and Dave). The generated content and AIs are *chimeras*. They will never work. Going in that direction won’t bring to any result. The demand for (that type of) “content” can only be delivered in that way. You cannot magically (algoritmically) produce content. You won’t fool anyone if not yourself (see Mike Rozak’s splendid definition of content).

As I said from MY point of view (the whole thing I’m saying here) is that quote I took from Raph: “they (levels) are used to keep people apart”

A solution to the problems I pointed is about possible, different models that could bring the players TOGETHER instead of apart. Levels, today, are used to chunk the community (which can also be good as I pointed to Raph) but also to shatter it.

You already summarized my “view” on these games when you said I see them as “living worlds”. I’d add that the model I would like to see is the one of a circle, where the whole game is self contained. Opposed to the current model that is just a lineear, endlessly stretched string that is viable only if you start at the same time of everyone else and are able to “keep up” with them.

If you join late, you are out. If you lose too much terrain and cannot keep up, you are out. (this is what Raph overlooked from my point of view)

Then there’s the sandbox game. Here we move away from a single-player game because the focus is more on the actors as active subjects more than a linear, fixed story that is narrated or re-enacted. In the sandbox you can fit pretty much everything, even the whole game of the first type. But, in general, the sandbox has “toys” into it that you can use freely and “creatively”. The player here can have different roles and the model is particularly appropriate for the myth of “satisfying repetable content”.

The other way is what I have as an ideal: the living world. A living world is a sandbox, or a complex system. In a complex system all the elements have a precise function that isn’t “replaced” or “mudflated”. All these elements are tied together, forming a complexity and shaping up a “world” that is self-consistent and self-contained. Where you just don’t need “more space” to justify more content and where you don’t need to mudflate and replace anything because every element has a purpose and is justified.

This model ideally allows the system to never age. Both new and old players exist on the same level and play together, not far away. There’s no need to build barriers since the game itself takes advantage from the ties between the elements. The development can go on at the same time on all the levels without leaving out either side.

Can you see that I’m pointing to the same problems you pointed too?

WoW’s dreams of “skill”

The longer detailed version is here. This is the short version I posted on FoH’s boards.

OMG, again with this myth of the ladder system based on “skill”?

It’s not possible. Skill in WoW is = to loot. If you build a ladder system you can as well rank the players based on what they wear. And if the ONLY REWARD for being at the top of the ladder is MORE LOOT, you just built a self-confirming prophecy where the guys who “have” already will “have” even more. And those with the poor loot will have even less.

WC3 ladder works because you cannot retain your heroes from a match to the other.

the gear difference between MC and ZG or whatever is tiny blah blah.. its true to an extent and because of that the gear difference between the masses and the ubers is relatively small.


There are at least three other threads recently opened on this forum proving you wrong. It’s not even funny.

Plus, a ladder system tracks statistics over time. Maybe you can be lucky in one match fighting with your blue gear against a full deep purple guy minmaxed to hell with 35% crits and 1200Ap. But, over time, you are dreaming if you expect to have better stats than him on a ladder. At least if he has a vague idea about how a keyboard and a mouse work.

Since this game is also not about 1vs1 you can multiply the “catass” factor by ten: a non-uber raid guildie will never be able to compete on that sort of ladder. Even if he plays in godmode.

Now add the fact that the rewards for being “uber” are more items making you even more “uber” and you’ll see how this ladder system is totally fucked.

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The Sandbox

Before I forget, I need to archive some comments, some from Raph’s page and some from Darniaq’s. The context is the same and we are all contributing to the same argument at the moment.

These definitions don’t pretent to be absolute and objective. They just define my personal perspective and my beliefs.

After the two wonderful articles that Raph wrote and that we are still discussing (broken link till I don’t copy/paste it), I believe that what is important to do is see what there is past those considerations. Focus on the conclusions and the possible answers to those problems. Or the discussion would become just redundant and not usable.

After having pointed the flaws of “level based mechanics” my motto is: “doing better, not doing without.”

To begin with, an assumption: sandbox = systemic

There are “content” games and there are “sandbox” games.

The first category is about natural single-player games that follow a linear direction. From a point to another. The game doesn’t end till you reach the other point, but the premise is that there is an end. You can stretch this model and make the gap between the two points bigger or smaller. You can even further extend it at will (think to games rising the level cap, or expansions to the classic RPGs) but the “end” is still there.

You are supposed to play this type of game till the developers have stuff to show you. Basically the playtime is proportionate to the development. In a game dependent on a monthly fee the dependence/addiction mechanic is preferred because it’s easier for the developers to find hooks and carrots, and make them desirable. It is also comfortable because there’s a definite direction and you have a precise idea of what you have to offer. It takes time but it is also predictable.

Then there’s the sandbox game. Here we move away from a single-player game because the focus is more on the actors as active subjects more than a linear, fixed story that is narrated or re-enacted. In the sandbox you can fit pretty much everything, even the whole game of the first type. But, in general, the sandbox has “toys” into it that you can use freely and “creatively”. The player here can have different roles and the model is particularly appropriate for the myth of “satisfying repetable content”.

This second model works like a complex system. The development time is still important but it’s not directly proportionate. The linearity is lost and the system is even supposed to move on its own once it is “closed”. Here the “end” is only represented by the boundaries of the sandbox (possibility space) but the longevity depends more on the ties between the elements within more than the actual number of elements.

The “sandbox” types of games are harder to make, in particular because the industry has less experience with them, while it has plenty to make the first type.

But it’s this second model that is simply more appropriate for an online game based on subscriptions and that is supposed to last in the longer term. It’s this second model to use the innate strengths of the genre and the uniqueness it has to offer.

From a simplified point of view:
– If you add one point to a linear path (the classic idea of content), you are increasing the ‘weight’ by one. It’s predictable and the system is so simple that you cannot really expect to optimize it.

– If you add one point within a system, instead, you increase considerably its complexity. This because all these elements are connected together and affect each other in a complex relationship (and often retaining a specific function, so never aging).

(These types of) Mmorpgs have life cycles. So noone actually cares if the newbies are turned off. It would require a long term planning that is just uncommon in this industry.

The point is that, after the initial sales, no other (linear) mmorpg has shown an increasing number of subscribers. Which is the other graph that Raph shown here.­ The strategy is to rise as much and possible, “milk” all you can and then, eventually, the profit will be used for some sort of “sequel”.

I ranted about this in my posts about the mudflation and “ecology”. The worlds get littered till they aren’t livable anymore, but noone really cares. We burn what we find. Use, throw away and replace.

It’s how the consumer society works and what gets replied in these games. We produce because we use and we use because we produce. There’s always “somewhere” else where you can go.

The other way is what I have as an ideal: the living world. A living world is a sandbox, or a complex system. In a complex system all the elements have a precise function that isn’t “replaced” or “mudflated”. All these elements are tied together, forming a complexity and shaping up a “world” that is self-consistent and self-contained. Where you just don’t need “more space” to justify more content and where you don’t need to mudflate and replace anything because every element has a purpose and is justified.

This model ideally allows the system to never age. Both new and old players exist on the same level and play together, not far away. There’s no need to build barriers since the game itself takes advantage from the ties between the elements. The development can go on at the same time on all the levels without leaving out either side.

And if you happen to enter it five years after the launch, you would be able to see it improved on every part and not just fragmented and left half-broken. It would inherit the innate qualities of life: grow and adapt.

One is built to last. The other is built to be consumed.

Linear games are easier to sell to a larger crowd it seems.

The point is that the “sandbox” games are still rudimental and the industry doesn’t have a lot of experience making them. The outcome just cannot compare to a linear game that is the direct heritage of a single-player game with a long history behind.

Making a good sandbox game is just way harder than sticking with a simpler, consolidated model. It’s more risky, less predictable (so the industry rejects it).

But then we have to go back at the roots. Why WoW is successful? Because it is accessible. Because it’s the very BEST game for a new player approaching this genre (without a doubt).

And what’s the first flaw of a sandbox? It’s lack of direction. The fact that you don’t know what you are supposed to do next and you feel overwhelmed and lost.


In my personal experience I had the exact same problems in UO, SWG and Eve-Online. It’s definitely not a coincidence. All these three games are very hard to figure out and enjoy. I’m not a total newbie but I had LOTS of problems in these games and I can see clearly why something like WoW is more popular. I know because it affects me as well.

In all those three games, for example, I found really, really hard to find people to group with, while it’s almost impossible to not get invited in a group in WoW at some point. I wrote about this in various occasions but the first, supposed quality of these games was instead my very first issue: the socialization.

I always found *extremely hard* to talk to strangers in UO, SWG or Eve if not within strictly formal relationship (like to repair my things in UO).

So the point is that the sandbox games aren’t simply “not successful”. The fact is that they aren’t ready. Just that. They are still too partial, incomplete, rough and inconsistent.

Still today the sandbox games are those where I had the LESS fun. So why I love them anyway? Because what I see is their potential beyond those flaws that have been impassable barriers for me. And if have that silly dream of becoming a developer it’s because I dream about what these games will be when those barriers will be removed.

That’s the myth I’m chasing.

(give a look to these ideas for some context)

Kinda pie in the sky but it would be nice if the zones could evolve or regress based on usage.

Dynamism works better in PvP. So those ideas are more interesting if applied in a PvP environment.

Instead PvE needs good stories and good stories need staticity or it would be just impossible to narrate good ones when you don’t have the controls on what is going on.

Dynamism means contingency and the contingency is the opposite of identity. Identity is essential to narrate stories. So the needs of PvP and PvE are antithetic.

Simply put: in a “systemic” game world all elements are tied together, the dots are connected. Each element has a “weight” in the system that affects everyone else.

In a systemic model:
– The players are brought together. The model is represented as a circumference, where the players/dots create groups or “cells” and move within while bouncing one against the other (creating alliances, conflicts, politics etc..). The space belongs to them (known) and is “managed”.

In a linear model:
– The players are spread apart. The model is represented as a vector, where the players are pointed toward an obligatory direction and have a set position that “qualifies” them toward the other players. The space is external, alien (unknown) and only conquered and progressively consumed.

By delving some more it is possible to transform those two into cultural models but I won’t do that here. Which one is more appropriate for an online game? You choose.

And yes, mmorpgs work as living bodies.

Portrait of a Father as an Undead Priest

It may appear not pertinent with the latest discussions, but it is. It also reminds me and complements this other story.
Lum’s version is also really funny :D

Portrait of my Father as an Undead Priest
by pxib

I’m paying for my father’s World of Warcraft account.

Well, theoretically it’s my account, but nowadays I hardly play. I got a mage up to level 43 or so before even the lovely quest-drenched grind grew tedious and frustrating. When my a few of my friends bought the game, we all started new characters on a PvP server and played leveled together after work. One of these friends happened to be my brother, six hundred miles away at his new job. This caught my father’s interest and, after I demonstrated the game to him, he showed interest in giving it a try. The idea seemed harmless enough, and remains a source of cute stories to tell folks online. Two things have lately pushed it past cute:

1) I have virtually stopped playing. His priest is now level 48.
2) He had enough gold to buy a mount immediately at level 40.

A few words on my father. He owns about a dozen hex-map war games. His younger brother introduced him to 1st edition D&D in the 70’s, and he introduced it to my brother and myself when we were both pre-teens. He has little interest in fantasy as a genre, but the gaming mechanic appealed to him. The dungeons he would create for my brother and myself were complex logic puzzles. How many copper coins can you carry? Is it worth fighting that Rust Monster to see what he’s guarding? Is that Yellow Mold or just yellow mold?

Not terribly fun at age 8. Most of our characters died before they reached level two.

More important to the story at hand, my father hasn’t played a computer game since the first Might & Magic on the Commodore 64. When I got a new computer this summer, I gave him my aging Pentium III (his gaming machine). Before that he was running Windows 95 on a 486. Skills that I take completely for granted (touch typing, using a mouse and keyboard simultaneously) are steep and daunting challenges for him.

I did not expect him to last long.

He spent his first month of play unable to pilot the character at run speed. So he walked. He doesn’t feel that bats and wyverns are worth the premium. So he walked. Everywhere. From Sepulchre to Thunder Bluff. Then, because various folks in my brother’s guild had the crafting professions, he chose herbalism and skinning. If he saw a monster that skins, he’d walk over and kill it. If he saw an herb he’d walk over and harvest it. Always. If he saw somebody who didn’t have a fortitude buff, and didn’t charge past before he’ d had time to move from the keyboard to the mouse, he’d walk over and put one on them. Always. Because people would so rarely stop, and because he is so slow a typist, he made a few speech macros and put them in treasured places on the quickbar. He has recently learned to identify monsters by color and shape, rather than by clicking on them.

He’s a priest, so people invite him to groups. Now that he’s learned to run, he’s actually rather successful on them. He has a decent set of +healing gear in addition to his soloing gear. To hear him tell it, the most challenging part was learning to understand the leet shorthand and acronyms people use. Things like “lfg” and “lol” went right over his head. He couldn’t type fast enough to ask for translations… every time he’d start, people would be fighting again and need healing.

Our alchemist stopped playing that character, so my father found the auction house. Now he sells everything there. Everything. Any item with a white name that he does not find on his list of everything for which he has figured the ideal price. Every magic weapon. Every magic armor. All the leather the leathercrafter doesn’t want anymore. If any of his old possessions aren’t soulbound, they go to the auction house too…

…and he loves the game.

He wants to know if I’ve logged in lately because he’s sent me a bunch of magic items my characters might like.

He tells me tales about particularly inept groups he’s had in the Scarlet Monastery.

He memorizes specific paths through Ashenvale and the bay off Ratchet for gathering piles of Stranglekelp.

He wonders if I’ve ever found a good source of Grave Moss, and (rather shy of PvP) decides he’ll swim around the horn from Booty Bay to the Swamp of Sorrows.

He plays three to five hours a night.

So an old gamer finds a new kind of game… and adores it. I shudder to think what’ll happen once he retires.

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