The nail in the head of Warhammer

Despite all the praises about the gameplay and design choices, there are still those glaring flaws that I and others pointed out… years ago.

In this case I quote someone else, as a good summary:

There are 7 public quests (that I know of) in the first Chaos zone alone. That means you’d need 42 to 70 people in that zone working on public quests to do them all at once. I even ran into one completely empty PQ over the weekend even though almost every Chaos player was in that zone.

Will there ever be that many people working on PQs in the same low level zone after the first week or two after launch? Probably not.

I suspected that they would dynamically scale public quests based on the number of players currently participating. When I found a PQ that nobody else was doing, I worked my butt off and completed the first stage alone. Then Champion mobs spawned in stage 2, and I was screwed. So, it looks like they aren’t doing any sort of scaling.

Unfortunately, even though public quests are extremely fun, I fear they won’t even be doable throughout the majority of the game for those of us who will get behind the curve. As soon as I fall behind the pack, which inevitably I will, I’ll be unable to do any PQs until the end game.

I was able to have a similar experience in the second chaos zone, even with 2500 players logged in. Not exactly during an off-peak. And not even weeks or months or years after a server launch.

There’s a way to sum it up in an even more significant way:
– Too many parts of Warhammer’s core design are strictly dependent on keeping a fine balance on the number of players participating, and so vulnerable. It’s not about PQs only. It’s about PQs, faction balance in open RvR, issues of overcrowding and depopulation in all the parts of the game. The *fun* strictly depends on that fine balance, to keep all the options viable at all times, and to keep the single option fun without suffering overcrowding or depopulation.

Right now Mythic does absolutely nothing to preserve that fine balance, and down the road I only expect XP, renown bonuses/disadvantages for a faction or the other that won’t really move anything in any significant way.

There are certain workarounds that may help, some of which I also suggested (de-levelling, multiple scenarios queues, adaptable objectives for PQs). But to me it’s very clear that this game required to be built different at its core.

– Dynamic server structure with a mix of persistence and instancing. Server(zone) created dynamically depending on the number of players. Something like a creative use of Guild Wars system.

Certain design schemes need their specific systems to work. Or they just remain pretty ideas that do not work in practice.

The scheme Mythic’s adopting here will have its flaws hidden or sweetened for a while, but it will hurt them hard in the long term.

Bloody Industry

It’s been described in a brutal way:

At approximately 4:30PM today, Sigil employees were told to meet outside. At which point they were terminated. On the spot.

Did they tell them to stand along the wall before they got executed?

Do we have the movie on YouTube?

Only official comment from Nino (FoH’s mascot), on the FoH’s boards:

I will make an announcement tomorrow regarding my status…

That isn’t a denial of the news.

My guess is that SOE cherry-picked some of them and fired the others. They’ll probably pretend Vanguard is going to be supported at least to milk it as much as possible before its demise. After all SOE still has Matrix Online active.

In other news SWG team is made by 20 devs.

(a)Vanguard

Four months later and Vanguard is now perfect.

…What? Isn’t what everyone used to say a few months back? That the game just needed a few more months of development to be ready?

shiznitz: Latest hubbub: Sigil UI dev quit a few weeks ago and the UI mod community is annoyed that no one is helping them any more. While reading the rants, I discovered my issue with having to click on spell icons twice to actually fire the spell was not my issue but a long known bug. Wonderful.

Devs, your UI is the first and last thing your customers see when they log in and log out. It should work and not suck. Looking like WoW’s isn’t enough.

Also, Nino seems to have left Sigil.

Kageru: Meanwhile I have no idea what happened with the game coding. The code seems to already have reached an unmaintainable state where bugs just can’t be fixed. I can’t imagine how else the act of forming a group, or not falling through the world, can still be so flawed. Meanwhile the rate of introduction for new bugs is scarily high.

I honestly can’t see the game holding enough subscriptions to fund the development it needs to be decent.

Rumors. My opinion is still the same, the game was broken this January, as it will be broken next January (if it survives till then).

And not much because of Brad’s hardcore game design, but more because of execution was poor (and planning, which is Brad’s fault in this case).

One player also noticed that quests don’t work in multiplayer, which would be interesting to discuss.

EDIT: New rumor. I doubt it’s true. And even if it’s true SOE will never admit the game isn’t doing well and will probably dress the press release so it sounds positive.

The LotR Online short-living bubble

I’m biased against Turbine, so read keep that in mind.

Months ago I was guessing possible subscribers numbers for the next Turbine’s game based on the Middle Earth and I said that I was expecting around 200k. More recently I noticed that the interest in the community was rising, in particular not in a specific niche, but in a more transversal way, so I thought that they could be more successful than I expected. 300-400k maybe.

I posted a quote from EQ2’s Scott Hartsman that is interesting to see in the context of this upcoming game. He says that the constant rise in subscriptions is a privilege of “the king of the hill”, while all other “players” live with the same rules upside-down: retention demands revolution, while for the king of the hill growth demands stability. This is not only true, but also particular enlightening, even if apparently so simple, because it explains so much.

I was finding something in common between these two points above. I said that I’m noticing an unexpected enthusiasm toward LotRO, but the real point is that when you dig in the enthusiasm you find out that is not just unexpected, but also unexcused. The enthusiasm isn’t backed up by actual solid points that justify the interest. You can call it classic beta hype.

WoW created expectations in the market, in the last few years since its release the market wasn’t really providing interesting alternatives, so the demand for “new” grew. People like to anticipate stuff and a big mammoth like WoW, while still top-quality, failed to renew that part of interest that is only awaken when you offer new perspectives. The Burning Crusade expansion is overall very well executed, but it delivers more in a kind of horizontal growth. Surely it doesn’t go to explore new frontiers, the game is enclosed in its boundaries and rules. It’s still an excellent experience, but you know what to expect.

LotRO falls in this particular “momentum” and it becomes a double-edged blade. From a side the game is “familiar”, and this is positive. People appreciate familiarity. I remember a post from Vanguard’s UI designer ,who joined late in development, who justified WoW’s UI ripoff because she said it is important that you carry over and respect some expectations, some standards. When the mass market is reached (through WoW) it’s convenient that you don’t impose a whole new language but instead integrate it. Instead of re-training players, you continue on the same path. You try to deliver on the specific genre, following its rules. Players come with expectations, directly compare features between games even when the comparison makes little sense, they impose their own needs and habits. If you want to be considered by an already formed audience you need to talk them in their language.

From the other side that approach becomes negative: the “sameness”. The feeling of “already seen”. This isn’t a problem of the first approach, I wrote not long ago how the first ten minutes are the very best experience in every game. During those ten minutes everything is a discovery, the brand new look. Even if it’s a familiar game it still appears very shiny. Things change with the time. The “familiar but shiny” loses its glint, the drug tends to fade and you look at things more consciously, you ask yourself what is deserving your attention and dedication.

I said that the enthusiasm I’m noticing about this game is both unexpected and unexcused. Unexcused because when you scratch below the surface you don’t find worthwhile concrete points. The most interesting feature I’ve read about is the “title-driven carrot”, depending on some actions and triggers you may unblock special titles, and there are a whole lot of them. Well, it’s nice, but this is what I call a “gimmick”. It’s not really part of the game fabric, it doesn’t affect the game rules and the final point is that, while nice, you surely won’t decide to play this game because “it has titles”. It is actually the perfect example of feature that gets your interest right away, part of the exploration and first impact. But three/six months into the game, do you think you’ll still be excited about these titles? It’s all presentation. Good presentation puts you in a good mood and it is very important, but you won’t stay because of it.

Is that where all the enthusiasm is coming from? There’s the “same girlfriend with a new dress” that I explained, and then there’s Tolkien. From what I’m reading Tolkien is really the whole point, what gives that particular flavor that people are liking. So it doesn’t matter if the actual art direction is just “passable”, it’s still Tolkien and (it seems) feels enough like Tolkien to trigger that special flavor.

And we arrive at the last point. For perspective I remind that Codemaster (euro publisher) is expecting 1M subs JUST for the european market. Then read again the quote from Scott Hartsman, is LotRO going to be enough King of the Hill to see a progressive growth in subscribers along the months? Let’s say it will be successful, do you think that WoW is going to lose from 500 to 1M subs because of LotRO (beacause for sure it won’t tap a new market with just a license)? My idea is that there’s a period when players keep their former account and also go try another game. LotRO may pulg there. I expect a good numbers of WoW players to try this new game and even like it. Either they are bored of WoW and so canceled their accounts, or they are still subscribed. In the first case I seriously doubt that LotRO will be interesting for them in the longer-term. In the second case I expect players to keep accounts active on both games and this usually lasts for a while but sooner or later they’ll decide one or the other.

I expect LotRO to be a short-lived bubble even on the forums. I don’t see the game having some serious draw that is not that special glint derived from the “newness” and “being Tolkien”. MEO will draw a lot of attention, it could initiate an interesting process of “mass-market”, but I also believe that it will be a comet. Big burst and then very quick fade.

My prediction is that the game, while starting quite well, will enter “subscription retention mode” very soon. Like two months after release.

It’s known that gamers have ADD. Especially those who go after the “shiny”.

SOE Station All-Access pass, thirty bucks

What I told you about SOE’s business practices and trends?

I saw this looking at other blogs feeds (Cuppycake and Krones). I guess Brad McQuaid pretended the price to raise in order to keep Vanguard vaguely profitable.

The price is now thirty bucks (in Europe add another $5 of taxes) and they even rebill you automatically with the higher fee (effective April 2, 2007).

Firstly they publicize Vanguard and the All-access pass as both part of a very convenient deal, then, I guess, they are successful but so successful to the point that they cannot keep all games and live teams alive with one reasonable monthly fee that has to be split thin.

So it’s now thirty bucks. Still cheap? Well, it’s almost what you would pay for a FULL brand new game with years of development behind it. And you pay that MONTHLY.

Prediction: this will break either EQ2 or Vanguard, as they are now forcing players to pick one side. As I anticipated, only one will survive.

Next step is obviously rising the single monthly fee. But they just cannot do that before the competition moves the first step ;p

They also gave NCSoft the perfect occasion for a winning stab. Release Dungeon Runners, Exteel and Tabula Rasa and launch their own version of an all-access pass with an accessible monthly fee. If they are going to miss this opportunity then they are just crazy. A victory handed on a silver plate. With their accessible games and variety of styles it even makes sense to play more than one mmorpg.

P.S.
Planetside monthly fee is also going up: $13 -> $15

The player-reported news on VE3D is worth a quote:

After more 3 years of continually dwindling subscriber numbers, corporate mismanagement, a botched expansion, the addition of in-game advertisements, and numerous unpopular gameplay changes, SOE in all their wisdom has decided to increase the subscription rate from $13 to $15, citing investments to improve the game’s support and infrastructure. Any long-time player knows the only support they have given is life-support. Barely keeping the game running is their idea of investing in it.

EDIT-
And another quote from Amber:

The short-sightedness of this approach is staggering. In a marketplace that Sony hasn’t come close to dominating for well over 5 years, they’re behaving like a monopoly with a captive player base.

The dream in the closet is about to get burnt

This is about that “Top Secret” project that claims to give you the occasion of your life.

Hey, if I’d be a goon that would be the occasion of my life. Since I don’t have the opportunity to work on games following the standard path (as foreigner) this could be the only way to actually try!

“I’ve always loved the idea that someone, from their bedroom, reveals their passion and talent, then suddenly can have an absolutely stunning career explosion, becoming a famous Game Director with a pre-built fan base. We’re going to make it happen!” says David Perry who is a Game Director and Chief Creative Officer for Acclaim Games.

David Perry will be building the new online game from scratch and is offering members of the Acclaim player community a rare opportunity to help him develop this video game in a collaborative effort with some of the industry’s best talent. “We will bring in some surprise guests along the way to inspire and mentor the contributors,” says Perry.

One lucky winner who shines the most during the development process will be given the top prize. “This is the only chance I know of to jumpstart a directorship career in the video game industry,” continues Perry. “Everyone wins. They get to learn how to make professional games, and if they get anything in, they get a real professional credit on their resume.” Perry finishes, “But, if they win, well then they get their life changed.”

Interestingly, applicants don’t need any prior game development experience. In fact, Perry refuses to look at resumes. “We only care about the pure, focused, passionate talent they show up with,” he says.

Hey, it IS me. It’s about MMO. It’s about bedroom game design. It’s about offering a lifetime occasion. It’s about an opportunity for those who cannot have one. There isn’t anyone else in the world who could make a better target!

But I’m not so naive and my first reaction was the same of Stephen Zepp on the F13 thread: a laugh.

I’m mildly curious about how they are going to attempt this. I’m one of those who like to plunge in the community for ideas and feedback, I’m the one who believes that it’s an indispensable part of making games. But at the same time you just cannot let the players, as a vague group, build a game. And what game by the way?

You cannot design “on the air”, you always need a context. A project must have well outlined goals and purposes, then you can start to gather ideas about a specific system or possible alternatives. The problem working with “the community” is that there’s no synthesis. It’s pure chaos and without someone directing the process and taking decisions then it’s all absolutely useless and superfluous.

Without a set context the ideas would be contradictory and conflicting. Building a game is about having a coherent Vision. Letting a whole community build a game instead equals to a “patchwork”. Even assuming the execution is exceptional, you still have a castle of cards lacking solid foundation, principles and goals.

And would be Dave Perry(™) the director that is supposed to make all this happen? Who will tell good ideas from bad ideas? Who will make the calls? Who will evaluate the community work? Since Lum was too modest to brag directly, I’ll quote what he linked, last year’s Austin rant where he comments one of Dave Perry’s ideas, this wonderfully creative guy:

As an example of that last bit, Jennings brought up a new project by Dave Perry and Acclaim that will include in-game classified ads on the screen. They can be turned off, but players won’t level up as quickly if they choose to play without them, a point that drew a chorus of boos from the assembled audience. He also suggested facetiously embracing a “wonderland of consumerism,” with Coca-Cola-sponsored magic swords, Kobalds corpses that hold Skittles, and a Jet Blue dragon to fly players around.

“When you totally disrespect your consumers like that, I can assure you of one thing: Your project will fail,” Jennings said. “And deservedly so.”

Jennings ended his rant to a hearty round of applause

The last nail on DAoC’s coffin

From an interview with Copper:

what we’re doing is taking the resources we would devote to an expansion – artists, quests, content, programmers – we’re taking those guys and they are all focused on delivering high-level content every two weeks.

When you replace the last bits of game development with “live events” it means it’s really over.

Bioware: as clueless as you can get

The firsts, vague details about the already hyped, upcoming Bioware MMO are coming out from the first interview they released about the project.

As a first comment I’ll copy what Haemish said: “I see a whole lot of naivete in that interview”.

Summary:

Gordon Walton, co-studio director, BioWare Austin: We announced the game around March, but we’d really started on it in the beginning of December 2005.

James Ohlen, creative director, BioWare Austin: We’ve got a lot designed — we’ve got the GDD [game design document] done, we’ve finished more than three quarters of the detail design documents. We’ve got a couple prototypes up.

And we can talk about the high-level goals: We basically want to bring what BioWare’s famous for to the online space, and one of the things BioWare’s famous for is storytelling … and it’s something that pretty well doesn’t exist in the online space right now. Most “storytelling” in MMORPGs is just FedEx quests — you know, you have to go get some eggs — and it’s presented in a format that’s just a bunch of text thrown at you in paragraph for … and that’s not so exciting. We want to bring a level of storytelling that’s equal to the single-player box games that BioWare has done.

JO: You can’t stop the world from being destroyed by [Sauron], but you can do a lot of things that are personal to your character. You change how your character evolves over the game, the player’s personal story — and a player’s personal story can be quite epic. It can involve parts of the world that, while they’re epic, exciting, and interesting, don’t change the landscape of the entire world for everyone else.

Rich Vogel, co-studio director of product development: One thing we don’t want to do is NPC Pez dispensers, as I call them — go over there, dispense a quest, and then go “vacuum-clean” a zone. We want to make sure you listen to NPCs, because choices matter. And that’s really important.

JO: and they can still — especially when you use things like instances — go on a quest that involves killing an ancient huge red dragon.

JO: In WOW, you get XP when you finish a quest, but the weighting on that is pretty low; there’s not much benefit to doing that over finding the perfect monster to grind and kill. If those quest experience points were a little higher, it would make a lot more sense to go along with the story.

GFW: How many of your key staffers migrated from SOE [which also has a studio in Austin]?

GW: I don’t know that we have a count. Some from SOE, some from BioWare Edmonton, some from other companies completely. It’s not like we had to go knocking. Experienced people want to work on a product that can be successful.

We probably have the most experienced team in the business, as far as building MMORPGs.

JO: we don’t want players to be stuck grinding through the same content over and over again.

RV: is our game going to be a simulation? No. Our game is an entertainment experience.

RV: it’s very important to have directed content … especially if you want to get to a mainstream audience.

JO: If we’re going to create immersive, epic stories that are believable, that really goes against having a simulation-type world.

RV: The key points that we’re gonna do that no one’s done before in an MMOG are bring story, character, and emotion to it. Decisions matter, and NPCs aren’t pez dispensers, and you’re not in a grind.

JO: One of the things we want to do is create more story content than in any other BioWare game before, and we started a writing team earlier than in any other BioWare project — more than twice as big, nine total. The reason is that the world is huge and has tons of paths and options.

So they found the magic recipe for the Endless Stream of Quality Content and No Grind that no one was able to find till today: hire nine writers.

And when it was asked how to “bring the story, character and emotion” the answer is: instancing.

If there’s one thing that irks me is when people disown what they have done in the past (SWG). You know, the more I hear them talk and the more I think that the “dinosaurs” Raph Koster often talks about are those two guys. Rick Vogel and Gordon Walton.

They come from a systemic game, it fails and now they are all for the directed gameplay “because you cannot be successful without”. And because of the WoW “me too” syndrome.

They are just running around aimlessly, glad that they now have “Bioware” printed in their resumes.

It’s not like we had to go knocking. Experienced people want to work on a product that can be successful.

Experienced people are looking for the Bioware name. Between these people are Rich Vogel and Gordon Walton.

For these “experienced people” what matters is their resume. And the fact that now there’s “Bioware” printed there. The rest? Irrelevant. They are leeches.

By the way. I also wrote a bunch of design notes in the past about how to bring “story, character and emotion” (part 1part 2). With the difference that I explained *concretely* how to achieve that. It’s there and you can agree or disagree with it. And surely wouldn’t be the only thing to make a game significantly different to be INDISPENSABLE and EXCUSED in the market. Because if no one feels the need for another cookie-cutter game (beside those “experienced people” who care only about a new voice on their resumes) then it shouldn’t be done.

One thing is an excuse to get a job. One thing is working because you believe in what you are doing. Because you have something to say.

But of course they would say that they HAVE innovative and interesting ideas, but, of course again, they cannot disclose them JUST YET. All those other MMO companies out there are just waiting the occasion to steal all their incredible, brilliant ideas. Okay. Sure. How much time do you want? One year? Two? Three? More? Whatever. Because I’m sure that no matter how much time we will wait, at the end there won’t be absolutely anything new behind the curtain.

Maybe a brick: in the form of instancing, nine writers and, maybe, branching quests (that will effectively double the time of content production).

In the meantime I really have one question. Honest. I hope someone will ask them in an interview in the future. The question is: Why a MMO?

Wait…

Why a MMO?

Better :)

“Because I want it on my resume” is NOT an answer.

If this project deserves some attention it is because, as I wrote on the forums, there’s Ubiq working on the combat system, and lately he seems more enlightened than usual.

Codemaster, that’s the way out the door

If Codemaster were (or going to be) relevant to the mmorpg space, I would write about this (Lum did), but they don’t.

Codemasters Online Gaming today announces ‘PlayPLUS’, a revolutionary subscription system for the hugely anticipated MMORPG ArchLord™. The PlayPLUS system will enable players to purchase packages that include both game time and in-game bonus credits. Credits will be redeemable against in-game items and benefits, such as experience bonuses, teleportation spells, health boosts and many other desirable enhancements.

Enjoy your way out of this industry. Noone is going to miss you.

I would also laugh so heartily if they could manage to convince Turbine to use that system on the soon to be failure MEO.

Shame on you, Sunsword.