Elder Scrolls Online: subscriptions

Gathering up some comments, since it’s typical that discussions focus on the part of the argument that is irrelevant.

It’s like those interviews where you omit the questions and have to guess them.

You keep talking about the business model being obsolete, but this is stupid. What is obsolete is the standard MMORPG gameplay. That’s why people now want it FREE, or nothing. Because IT SUCKS.

If ESO offered a kind of value that feels new and stimulating, then being on a subscription fee would be absolutely viable.

The point here is that this GAMEPLAY IS STALE. And people aren’t willingly to pay for stale gameplay. Especially not premium prices considering that these days ALL PRICES are down in every gaming genre.

“People unwilling to pay” applies EQUALLY whether you have subs, or free to play. The difference is that on free to play people can actually decide you are worth exactly $0.

This is the best example that demonstrates the opposite of what you say.

FFXVI launched once, failed, went again into development, relaunched, was marginally successful.

Result: failure/success depends on development and not on having a subscription, since this is a game that failed once, succeeded once, and in both cases has a subscription just the same. Hence, it’s not the subscription itself the deciding factor.

“Market research”: what you spend money on so they tell you what you already know.

Making games, like art, means envisioning what is not already there. Even if it’s an original recombination of old elements. Good games create their market, a market that didn’t exist before, and that market research for sure couldn’t foresee.

Like MOBA today. Suddenly it’s MOBA everywhere. Yet MOBA didn’t truly exist before and no one needed them. (or Dark Souls, or roguelikes etc…)

So, if you work in the industry you only need to decide if you are the idiot that blindly FOLLOWS the trends and is lead by the nose, or if you have some ambition and walk ahead and lead them.

Oh, and I really do believe this discussion is stubbornly stupid: keep talking about sub fees all you want. It’s IRRELEVANT.

It’s the game that is relevant, and what you pay for it is secondary to what kind of experience the game delivers. A game could even be worth $100, just as long it delivers that kind of experience.

Market trends come after. The economy of a business is a domino. The pieces fall following the pattern they are set on. You change the pattern, they fall differently.

But it looks like you want to talk just about secondary consequences as if they are primary motivations…

WoW isn’t shedding subs because it’s subs based, but because development halted completely a few years ago and development staff moved onto new projects.

MMORPGs last exactly as their dev teams.

F2P is the 2nd stage: when dev teams are moving on different projects, and the game is kept on life support as long it lasts.

Only the actual quality and type of game can carry $15 subs. The question is whether or not ESO delivers that kind of quality and novelty.

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Not exactly

A blog post by industry lost boy Raph Koster got my attention:

Good feedback is detailed.

Sometimes you get a piece of feedback that is highly specific. It offers alternate word choices. It tells you the basics like you’re an idiot. It offers suggestions that are likely things you considered and discarded. It rewrites the plot for you. It feels like a rug burn: condescending, a checklist of everything wrong. You walk away feeling like this is the worst feedback ever.

It isn’t, though. It’s the best.

Look past what may feel like condescension. This sort of detail is impossible for someone who has not engaged fully with your work. The sign of a critic who does not care is brevity, not detail. It’s dismissal.

Now, all the other caveats about whether or not this feedback is right still apply. It can be detailed and not right. But never dismiss serious thought.

If my own blog proved something that is worthwhile saving, all I’ve written, it is: TL;DR

We have lived and fought in vain. *Especially* in the MMO field.

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Cometh: He comes (AAA Postmodern gameconcept that will never exist)

I was listening to a TotalBiscuit video, specifically where he claimed that games should attempt to use their own medium in specific ways, telling stories only possible in that medium. And I remembered that I had a cool game concept that did just that: it’s a particular story, strictly woven with the gameplay, that just wouldn’t work in another medium. You can’t turn it into a movie, or a book, or comics, or a TV series or whatever else. It’s a game story, and it only works as a game story.

P.S. About accuses of sexism (because of the controversial and easily misunderstood last line), I answered here.

I think it’s a great concept. The gameplay side of it I had already explained in the past. But I kept “secret” how that gameplay tied back into the story, which is the aspect that elevates this concept to something unique and insanely ambitious and daring. Since I’m not doing anything with this idea and since I’ve sat on it long enough, I thought about just throwing it in public domain. Use it any way you want.

The basic idea is about a space sim. It brings together a number of influences because that’s how I roll: take ideas from disparate mediums.

Not exactly a “space sim”. The basic concept is that instead of fighting against an handful of enemy AI ships, you fight instead against WAVES of enemies. Hundreds of enemy ships. Combat behavior of enemy ships is less based on autonomous AI and more on elaborate “choreography”. The idea is to have a visceral simulation that is instead inspired to “Space Invaders”. Or even think about Homeworld. Only that now you are alone versus hundreds of waves of enemies.

To balance the difficulty, obviously, gameplay doesn’t rely on balance between what your ship can do and what enemy ships can do. You are almost invulnerable, can take many hits. You are extremely overpowered compared to them. But this doesn’t remove the feeling of fighting against impossible odds. Battles should look desperate. You look out of your cockpit window and see the space SWARMING with enemies, all coming at you (influence here: Gunbuster).

Some of this concept I actually talked about in the past, but the part I kept “secret” was how the fictional layer (the story) plugs into that. That’s the thing I wanted to explain here, but I’ll get to it at the end. The basic fictional frame of the game is the one of the “exodus”. Think of the first part of Macross/Robotech (or Battlestar Galactica). You fly on a massive mothership on a long journey toward salvation after your world has been destroyed, but waves of enemy keeps coming at you. When they do, you get into your ship and try to save the day, and defend the mothership.

Here the other core idea: the Comet (without the ‘h’). It’s the player’s ship. The inspiration is Jules Verne’s Nautilus, and the concept I wanted to bring to space sims: you don’t simply shoot at enemy ships, but YOU RAM INTO THEM. Punch holes into them. The thing I wanted to achieve is to have a VISCERAL sim. Nuts and bolts. Not technology (this implausibility will return in the story). The most important part is to model the pilot’s model into the 3D cockpit. The arms need to be visible, continuously moving, pressing switches. It’s essential that there’s this visceral, tangible physicality. The ship must look as if “analog”, not digital sophistication. I want a Gothic cockpit. Plates of metal bolted into place, almost a steampunk look, steam coming out of vents. I want handles and straps that the pilot grasps when in Comet/ramming mode. Handmade cockpit as if pounded iron bent roughly into shape. Not sleek metal. Cockpit very tight, claustrophobic (inspiration: Tetsuo: The Iron Man).

Both the pilot and the ship need be alive. The pilot makes breathing sounds, speaks to himself aloud. Yells at enemies, cheers, screams for pain. He can also makes gestures toward enemies when something blows up just right and so on. It needs having this kind of autonomous life and personality while the player still handles the controls (this is also part of the story).

The ship is also alive. It creaks, wails, screams (Evangelion is an inspiration here, or even the way cars and bikes sometimes have some crazy humanlike wails). It’s all about non-technological sounds. Out of an industrial album. Saw-like, grinding sounds, gears. When the sound is human-like it needs to oscillate between hallucinated desperation and rage. That’s the ship personality. A thing from hell. Some kind of monster alive you’re piloting. Something scary. Also: idea of pilot within a uterus (Evangelion again).

In Comet mode the ship masses up power, starts spinning on its axis, then it builds momentum and goes straight in a line at excessive speed (while screaming) until it stops on its own. Everything in its path blows up. If the thing has a lot more mass, the ship BOUNCES. Metal against metal sounds. It needs be visceral, with the pilot being hit strongly in the cockpit on impact (inspiration: Tarantino’s Grindhouse). It must feel violent.

Story mode: something like System Shock 1 configurable difficulty. You select which parts you want enabled or disabled. For example for story it can go from 0 to 3. 0 = no story at all, you simply go from one combat to another. Just action. 1 = some passive exposition between each fight, giving context to the battles. 2 = full story mode. All the story is enabled, but still in passive mode. 3 = it actually extends the game to the full version. The idea I had here is to switch genres. Off-ship it would be like a Visual Novel (or Persona). Lots, lots of dialogue. RPG mode where you can recruit some NPCs that will then be employed as wingmen. The idea is to build real character the player cares for. Flash out the setting to the point of almost making an independent game outside of the space sim. But still exactly taken as a Visual Novel, with a similar style.

And here the big deal between the gameplay and story integration I was speaking about. At the beginning of the game the context is built so that the player questions the plausibility of it. Why are these enemies attacking us? What’s their purpose? Alien enemies never talk through the whole game. Their purpose is hidden. They just attack in waves and try to build new strategies and weapons. Here’s the other idea: the player’s ship has a mechanical arm (idea taken from Squaresoft’s shooter Einhander). When you blow up new enemies you can use the mechanical arm to grab these weapons left on the field. You can use them on the fly, or you can bring them back to the mothership for further research. Eventually all the player’s arsenal is about appropriated alien weapons. The game is like a journey, and toward the end the idea is to make the player’s ship look more and more like a monstrous alien ship. You transform. A Kafka metamorphosis where you become an alien.

Here’s the deal: before the very last world-destroying epic battle a cutscene is shown. For the first time you see the alien point of view. These aliens worship a sort of God of War. All their iconography is about him. He dominates everything in their culture. This God of War is you. Alien mythology essentially says that these aliens are caught in a kind of time loop. At the end of every cycle the God of War comes down crushing down on them, annihilating their world. Then it loops and they find themselves again at the start, waiting for the new apocalypse and the little time they have left to live. They know nothing else than death and the threat of death. For them there’s no other reality than this vengeful god that eventually kills them all, so their only purpose in “life” is to try to find a way to escape the loop. To awake from the nightmare. To try to kill the god they always try to fight when the god is weak, like at the beginning of the game. But at the beginning the loop was just reset, and so they also have not enough strength. This creates the paradox that has the aliens themselves creating the God of War (you). It’s them attacking the player that makes the player defend himself, and eventually come to crush them. It’s them giving him their technology to make the player powerful. The aliens are basically stuck in a loop because of their own actions. Condemned to repeat them. A self-fulfilled prophecy.

Cometh: He comes. Death comes swirling down. The pilot as a mass murderer straight from hell. Totally irrational madman whose face is obscured by an hellish helm(et), screaming in a incomprehensible language. Knight of Apocalypse bringing the holocaust. God of War.

Do you notice anything? It’s game-logic. Like a player restarting a game, those enemies condemned to relive the same experience, make the same errors, suffer again and again, getting killed over and over. It’s exactly the way the game would look IF IT WERE REAL, seen from the inside. And that’s reserved for the final scene, after this last battle is successful and the player annihilates once again the alien threat. Some kind of hallucinatory scene out of 2001: A Space Odissey.

It needs be epiphany. A voice talking. A light. It tells the pilot/player that he has no consciousness, that his will has been manipulated and his life has all been a lie. The pilot will rebel against this thought. He’ll try to affirm his will, his reality. I think therefore I am. I feel. I am alive, here. I love and hate. But eventually it will be shown it’s not himself behind those controls. It works this way: the insubstantial voice tells the pilot to “make a choice”, like steer the ship left. To make this choice, then tell it aloud. The pilot will say what he choose. But IT’S THEN THE PLAYER TO HANDLE THE CONTROLS.

Obviously here the game goes on till it forces the player to actually break the pilot’s will. Ah, so delicious. It just will happen eventually. The player may decide to close the damn game, but that’s the META level I’m playing with: do you want to finish the game or REFUSE THE TRUTH?

So eventually the pilots says he’ll go left, but the player handling the controls will turn instead right… And the pilot will finally realize that he’s not in control. When this barrier breaks, everything is over. The pilot will start to scream, bang his head against the cockpit. The insubstantial voice will continue to speak, telling the “truth”. You are not a pilot, you are just a machine. You’ve been used, your life is a lie, your reality is a lie. You are the God of War.

Then there’s a transition. The insubstantial light continues to speak but it starts to modulate and morph into the pilot’s voice. So now the insubstantial voice is the pilot’s voice. The ship’s cockpit reappears, but there’s no pilot. But the player still can control the ship. WITH NO PILOT. HOW CAN A SHIP MOVE WITHOUT A PILOT?

Because you are the pilot. The voice (old pilot) speaks to you, the player. It says it now understands EVERYTHING. He was not a pilot. He WAS THE SHIP. He has always been the ship’s soul. The ship’s wails and screams were his own wails and screams. The ship’s desperation and hate were his own desperation and hate. This was the only true reality. The truth. He was only a ghost, a ghost trapped in a machine. Were those wingmen and NPCs through the game’s actual plot truly alive? Did they exist?

It’s up to you/the player (the voice says). Those people and stories exist in memory. They are true as long you want them true. As long they are remembered they will exist, they will make a difference. Their life and purpose rest in the player himself. Do you want to remember? Do you want to keep them alive?

I am the ship.

(the face of the pilot, reduced to a screaming mouth, is superimposed and then morphed into the iron device that was used through the game to enable the “Comet mode” and make the ship ram other ships. It’s like an head, the ship as a metaphor, a thing alive. The Comet mode was activated by stabbing the “forehead” of this device with some iron rod, which would initiate the anguished scream of the ship)

I am the ship.

Use me, abuse me, because through you I live.


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PvP design philosophy

Discussing on the forums the Factional Warfare concept that I criticized here revealed something rather important: I’m ranting about a game that I don’t play.

Moreover, I’m ranting simply because CCP design didn’t follow my own expectations and desires. And obviously CCP isn’t my property and what I personally think doesn’t matter.

So: I’m ranting because an hardcore game is made for its audience, and not for me.

Sure. I anticipated this and explained my reasons on the first post I wrote recently. Where I wrote that my opinion is that Eve-Online has reached its critical mass and if they now want new players they need to start open up their systems. Bridging the early (and dull) game to the more deep stuff.

Factional Warfare isn’t doing that, and I ranted.

This also raised again the idea of a PvP design philosophy. A concept that I would like to see in at least ONE game. But that right now is completely absent from the market.

Which would be then meaningful only if there would be a big market for it. I believe there is. And that it is commercially BIGGER than what we have currently (for PvP). So: design philosophy and personal opinions. Personal opinions that matter not because *I* write them, but because when I write them I also *motivate* them.

This PvP design philosophy is about the progression system. Every decent system needs a progression. And every decent progression needs to be accessible. So that everyone can move through. More slowly or faster, but still move through.

Translating this to PvP simply means: PvP will NEVER be accessible and widespread if it works at a loss. So this is how it should work: if you want a system where PvP is more frequent and fun, then you need a system where people can participate without losing more they can gain.

In a system where the experienced players are MUCH, MUCH powerful than new people who enter for the first time, you need some mechanic to leverage them. Especially in the longer term, when people who are already inside become more and more powerful and the wall to climb for the new players higher and higher. In Eve it doesn’t matter if there’s a corp who decides to take over, new players won’t have a chance if they enter a system where EVERYONE is more powerful than they are.

For PvP to work and be popular and widespread entry costs need to stay low. As low as possible.

In Eve-Online and other “hardcore” PvP games the costs are instead higher to the lower end than the higher end, where you can develop a fair margin of wealth to stay safe. Noobs pay higher costs than veterans. And this creates a gap between players that is harder and harder to fill, in a similar fashion to what happens with PvE raiding endgame. The game becomes increasingly specialized and less and less appealing and accessible for new players. That for a MMO equals to a progressive, unavoidable decline.

So: a PvP system with very low entry costs and at a gain. Where you gain through participation. Progressively.

In EVERY game and PvP systems you die a lot when you enter for the first time. In Eve-Online not only you would die a lot, but you’ll also PAY a lot. So a lot of players shy away because the game isn’t for them, while a smaller subset cling to the mechanic and find an exponential success, because once you climb the wall you can look down at things from far above. And it is rewarding.

But it’s also an overall mechanic that is divisive and that works only toward a minority. A minority that will be eroded over time.

This means it is a choice, and that there’s nothing wrong to make a game that aims at a niche. But you also have to recognize and admit what you’re doing.

I’m not fighting against the idea that hardcore players shouldn’t have their game. But that PvP can be both deep and accessible. And I want to play that game. And I believe it would be extremely successful.

I don’t like the idea that I have to grind boring PvE missions for a week so that I’m able to participate in PvP for an hour. PvE should never be a requirement so that you can enjoy some PvP. I want a PvP system where participation costs are LOWER than the rewards. So that I can stick to it and continue to play and have fun. Without punishing mechanics to push me to the lowest risks.

These are the points I’ve offered for Eve:
* Open/factional PvP should be limited to SPECIFIC battleground systems tagged for Factional Warfare. While secure space should stay secure even if you are signed in.
* Within these tagged systems NPC factions should provide you the “gear” to use. Gain ranks to get access to better gear/PvP sets. If you blow up, you get replacements. As long you fight for them. (free participation costs)
* Forbid players to bring NPC-rented equipment outside battleground systems. So that the gear you gain can only be used inside this system. (not disrupting the current game)
* Forbid you to swap sets. So that you are only able to fly in NPC-rent sets, and not bring a goddamned Titan to a noob battleground.

The last point would allow these battles to be accessible to everyone, both noobs and hardcore, and yet provide equal opportunities as no one gets access to more powerful stuff.

That’s how you “train” people to PvP. By making it fun, accessible and frequent.

To these proposals some players replied that the PvP would lose all “meaningfulness” if you don’t risk to lose anything anymore. To that I replied that for me “meaningful PvP” is about communal objectives. Conquering and holding public space, expanding the empire.

I don’t intend and don’t like “meaningful” as a personal cost.

With that, I hope the argument is exhausted in all its points.

– lowering entry costs
– provide plenty of targets
– create a convergence
– add a strategic communal layer (conquest mode)

Emergence of setting and secondary-worlds

Even in the fantasy book blogosphere there are sometimes big debates sprawling between the many blogs.

This one is about the design of the setting. An argument I obviously like and agree with the observations being made. In fact some key arguments were already in those two forum threads where I asked suggestions of fantasy books that would deliver what I was looking for.

Being tired of the Hero’s Journey I was looking for a story about a world. Not about one character. A setting where the world outlives its characters. Because people make history, but they are also expendable. Things move on no matter what one does, and the true relevance of actions and choices of some is revealed by the influence they have on others. So there’s a need of story changing hands to make this concept surface. A story that can be emergent from the characters, where characters are plot devices, important, but not the finality. No real story is about one or few people, things are more complex and intricate. I wanted a story with that approach, less naive, something that zoomed in to the close perspective, for the emotional impact and empathy with the characters, then zoomed back delivering the grander scheme of things. The sense of history, continuity and consistence.

I wanted a secondary-world that worked like a sandbox. That would hold many stories within. That made emerge a complexity.

From the other side instead I wanted a world made of rocks. That felt like stone. Something visceral, something where the story came from those stones. A world with a strong feel of “place”. Again not characters moving on a blurred, mutable, interchangeable background, but places that told a story themselves, about those people who lived there, passed by, fought there. Places that could be traveled one day by one group of characters, and later by others. Places as witnesses. Places as the founding pillars of a world. People come and go, but those places would stay, maybe changed, but still there. Witnesses of what happened there, a demonstration of history, bearing its signs, its scars.

Both these aspects are well outlined in that article I linked:

Epic fantasy requires us to build from first principles — vision, sound, touch, taste, scent — and make a physical place in which the action plays out that’s compelling and immersive.

Tolkien also wasn’t making his living writing fiction, and so could afford to take a very long time (commercially speaking) to refine his visions of the Mines of Moria and Rivendell and Mordor. You can find the proof of that in the reimaginings of his settings by visual artists since The Lord of the Rings first came out. Even more than the characters or the plot, the places in Tolkien are memorable.

Those of us who toil in Tolkien’s shadow have that to match, and it’s not a bad measure to judge second-world fantasy by whether you remember the places. I would go so far as to suggest that George’s success with A Song of Ice and Fire maps to the number of memorable places in the world. The Wall, Winterfell, the Aerie. When I think back to other fantasy series, I can remember characters and events, dramatic moments in the plot, and sometimes the general feel of the story even without specifics. I don’t think anyone has drawn as many powerful places as Tolkien and George, at least for me. Back when “novel” was closer to its original meaning, this was what it was all about — being someplace new and amazing through the collaboration of the author’s language and reader’s imagination.

The other concept he describes, aside the idea of memorable places, is “Setting as Milieu”. That also connects to my ideas.

Often in fantasy a setting lives by its characters. You follow the story of someone, in a secondary-world, as “fantasy” can’t preclude from it. But when the character is done, the setting also disappears with him. The setting lives as long the character. As if it was theater, after the piece is over the scenography is disassembled, taken away. The writer has a story to tell, and created a setting to contain that one story.

But if that’s the goal then the fantasy setting is superfluous. Because a story can be adapted to every setting with very minimal effort. Being “fantasy” is entirely a quality of creation and consistence of a secondary-world. So you look at fantasy when you are looking exactly for that device.

The article says that once you made an effort to create a setting as milieu, then the setting can outlive the single story. You created something emergent with its own life. And it doesn’t matter if the main characters die or disappear, because the story can move on, to completely different people, but still in the same world. This gives continuity and consistence. And this is something unique that fantasy, as a genre, offers to writers.

This is the quality of fantasy.

Setting is also milieu. Stories set in the same fictional universe support one another, and generate a sense of the familiar in the readers — a sense of returning.

Call RMT for what it is: Speculation

Let’s be honest. The ultimate goal has always been about making players pay MORE. Not less.

SOE has always pioneered on this field. They were the firsts to rise the monthly fee, to try to push up the standard monthly fee with SWG, to offer pay services as the ones for EQ2, to push out expansion packs every six months regularly, and then mini packs in the case of EQ2 again. Then RMT and even the Station Pass. Yes, cumulatively you pay “less”, but they probably noticed that the majority of the players didn’t keep subscriptions active for more than one game. So it’s always the same, trying to make the customer cumulatively pay more than the 15 dollars every month.

I’m pretty sure that if Blizzard and other prominent MMO companies went to propose SOE to make a cartel and all agree to rise the monthly fees, SOE would gladly accept.

So it all comes to “make you pay MORE”. Find ways to persuade you to pay more. And this is even legitimate for a commercial company (even if upside down).

If you are aware of this, then you also know exactly where it is going this myth of the “free game”. To be commercially viable, they would need to make a game where if one player plays for free, there’s another who not only pays for himself, but also for the player who didn’t spend any $. So, if someone can pay “less”, then someone else HAS TO pay “more”. You cannot escape this situation.

Whenever someone is trying to offer you something for “free”, he is trying to fuck you. With no exceptions.

So if you make a game with no monthly fee you have to COMPENSATE it through other means. And this compensation must equal or exceed the standard monthly fee, or this business model would be a fiasco. The only good part of all of it, being solely about the “accessibility”: if the game has zero costs upfront, then more likely players will approach it and decide to stay.

That’s one aspect. The other is about game design.

The problem of “alts”. It’s true (as Darniaq repeated on a thread on F13) that the most desirable aspect of RMT in “our” kind of games is buying leveled characters. It’s boring for EVERYONE going through the game after the third, fourth time and more. It is perfectly understandable if some players look for “shortcuts”. And if they accept RMT to be a good one.

This also doesn’t take anything off the quality of the game. It would happen even in WoW, where the treadmill is still an excellent experience. But it’s an experience that gets redundant.

Now the point is: you can decide to SPECULATE on this aspect and use the demand of the players as a perfect occasion to put your hands in the players’ wallet. Or you can observe this aspect and offer GAMEPLAY alternatives that can lead to better games.

I did already these kinds of homework. The main reasons why people feel the necessity of creating more alts are to (1) switch servers, often to go play with someone else, (2) try out different combinations/classes. I completely solved BOTH of these with my own design ideas that I repeated recently and that always been the basis of all I wrote since when I started writing.

Server travel goes to solve the first problem, and the “permeable” class system goes to solve the second. If I can start a new character with a different class, why it would be negative to let players develop different careers/classes on the SAME character? Why imposing the players to build brand new identities when what they want is MAINLY just a gameplay variation? Why we cannot offer this variation they ask without taking away forcefully also their identities?

All these questions are THE BASE OF GAME DESIGN. If you don’t consider these, then you have NO RIGHT to be in the game industry. These goals coincide with making good games, that are seen as good. They provide answers to needs and wishes of the players.

The contradiction with the wicked model of RMT is that it’s not convenient to think and provide those solutions. They are asking game designers to go against their job. Design trappings at the EXPENSE of players. Make worse games in order to profit. Create flaws in order to speculate on them.

Medics who don’t completely heal in order to continue to milk money off you. Medics who deliberately HURT in order to speculate.

And this is utterly disgusting. Not only it is wicked, but it will also BACKFIRE SPECTACULARLY, as it is completely foolish and contradictory.

And that’s the second aspect. The third aspect is that Smed’s laudable purpose of making a free game, based on RMT, but where the RMT only affects “non-game impacting items”, is just impracticable. And I’m don’t say this because I don’t like it. I’m saying this because it’s not commercially sustainable. It goes nowhere. It’s a soap bubble.

The basic problem is: how can you fund a whole game where the small minority who practices RMT is supposed to cover the costs for every other player?

It’s not going to happen. Second Life is a soap bubble itself. People forget that it isn’t commercially profitable. So or you do these kinds of stuff for researching purposes, or you HAVE TO put there a “trap” so that some players spend enough to cover the costs for players who are spending less. A game with “non-game impacting items” is a game completely playable without paying one dollar, and without a substitute source of income it is a game that is supposed to run without any money. Are now game developers benefactors?

Take another, but related form of RMT, already active in WoW. Why if I want to join my friends on another server with my current character I have to pay for the transfer?

Let’s assume Blizzard sold leveled 60 or 70 characters. I’m sure players would buy them so that they could play with their guilds.

Now the problem is that you can be an idiot and see these as perfect occasions to make money, or you can see these examples as GLARING examples of games’ flaws. I defined them “emergencies”, and emergencies they are. In the first case you are SPECULATING on players’ needs. Deliberately avoiding to fix these problems and make better game in order to speculate on these flaws. In order to perpetuate them.

They keyworld is: speculation. Those who support and promote RMT are speculators in this industry and you should know that speculators are by definition parasites that don’t help at all the cause. Because the interests conflict.

Speculating on the same barriers between players that it’s years I’m fighting against. I asked people in this industry to react and do something about those emergencies, but the current discussion about RMT is already an answer. These people have NO INTEREST of doing something, because their goal is just about PERPETUATING THE STATUS QUO AND SPECULATE ON IT.

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Mmorpg game design emergency: do something

I was writing on F13 that the natural growth over time of Vanguard’s subscriptions will fall sooner compared to similar titles:

A side effect of an “hardcore” game is that it will age worse. The subscribers growth will fall sooner.

In WoW the solo friendly design helped the longevity a lot because the game is built so that you can have a good experience even if you aren’t part of the initial “rush” on the server. The fun experience is well preserved.

Vanguard will probably have a much harder time to grow subscribers in the mid/long term as the grind when there aren’t players around will feel much harsher. Being more “group friendly” makes the game vulnerable to lack of players, off-peaks and so on. The longer leveling curve will also build much bigger gaps and it will take ages for a new player to join his friends and play together.

These kinds of barriers are overlooked RIGHT NOW. But I’m sure they’ll become a major factor later on.

This is part of a bigger picture. The majority of the games out there and in development are showing obvious needs, the players are exposing them. These are cues that must be understood now. There must be answers at least to those problem that the majority of these games are showing.

So this is a design discussion common to ALL these games, not about a specific one. Game designers are LATE on providing valid alternatives and answers. I don’t consider “being innovative” giving a strong, valid answer to these main problems, but if this industry must proceed through incremental improvements then at least let’s DO SOMETHING. Narrow down some very simple and essential problems and tackle at least those. Define some strict goals that are *proven* as valid.

From my perspective these three are the priorities. The design principles to work toward even before the preliminary work on game design started:

1- Server structure. Brandon Reinhart recently wrote how “the fundamental server architecture has an impact on the game in a very real, money-in-the-pocket, subscribers-on-the-line kind of way”, as I also did a number of times in the past. Mmorpgs should develop as FIRST PRIORITY a flexible server structure that balances the server load, population and PvP factions, while avoiding to build barriers between players. For me this means “server travel” as a basic, exposed mechanic built in the game. I don’t care about the implementation. But your game MUST remove barriers between players, must let them meet together easily. If there are barriers these MUST be passable. Permeable. So if there are barriers they must be temporary. The “sharding” should never be a cage to separate players permanently.

2- Game structure. Let’s build games as worlds that can live and flourish. Let’s develop systems well connected between each other, with a solid function. And let’s develop them so that the whole structure is well developed and maintained, so that the game doesn’t become stale for new players who finish confined in forgotten and deserted parts of the game. A new player when starting the game should be presented with a vibrant, lively, active world and community. Not an abandoned zone. The game should be considered and developed cohesively, not just focusing on the last segment of a linear development scheme. Not toward a dispersive drift that will necessarily bring to a decline. Let’s not build these games so that they can be easily replaced, let’s build them so that they become solid structures on which you can capitalize. Solid foundations on which you continue to build and improve. Not castles of cards. Not perpetuating mistakes just so you can fuel and hype unnecessary sequels.

3- Remove gaps and barriers that prevent players to have fun together. Instead of FORCING grouping, let’s make grouping not a chore. Let’s keep the power differential between new and veteran players narrow so that they can join their friends, play and have fun within the first hours in the game, right as they are comfortable doing so after they learnt the ropes of the game. And not after months of grind/work. Let’s build a structure of the game to keep the community together and focused instead of scattered along an infinite treadmill. And let’s give player’s classes flexibility (for example directly through class switching and alternate paths, without having to relog new characters) so that a group can be put together quickly without having to waste time waiting for a specific class, letting players ADAPT their characters to the group.

These aren’t vague and abstract principles. These are founding values. These aren’t game “wishes” aimed toward a specific game or preference. These are actual EMERGENCIES in all today’s mmorpgs.

Design priorities. Everything else is subordinate. Setting, combat system, gameplay, these are all secondary. There may be millions of different and valid answers to those three problems. But we MUST provide answers to them. I don’t care what the answers are (mines or someone else’s), but I do care that they are aimed there.

So, dev people out there, lets agree on these basic principles and do something to start moving in that direction? Let’s at least have the will to go there.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

I post and break my own rules again because I don’t like to leave things open and because I don’t want to push the flames any further in the place that produced all this.

I’m referring to the thread on F13, the first post from Mark Jacobs, my reply later on the thread, and all that happened afterwards.

Lum took offense and I should have imagined that before writing what I wrote. But my point wasn’t against Lum, his site, the bans and all the drama. My critics were about what happened AFTERWARDS. The U-turn in Mythic’s stance toward the community. The order from Mark Jacobs to Mythic’s staff to never post again on those forums. The delegitimization of the community that legitimated them in the first place. And then, along the years, the progressive, constant deterioration of that relationship with the community.

In fact I always PRAISED what Mythic *was* doing on ltm/SND as I always praised devs that are genuinely interested in a discussion and that keep in touch with the community. Those who know me also know that I always sided for a more open, sincere and constructive relationship and nothing changed in my stance.

I DO believe that ltm/SND was the real “Camelot Herald” but I also believe that the good feedback wasn’t malicious and it was also coming from that close relationship. Keeping in touch with the community, interpret its needs. I do believe that that process was positive both for Mythic, DAoC and the players. But as I said there was an U-turn at some point, that I identified with that post from Mark Jacobs I quoted and that then progressed along the years. Till today. Today Mythic is completely out of touch with the community and that is also one of the reasons why what is left of DAoC is only a very pale shade.

Why I went necroposting that quote? Because it was happening again. It was as new as it has always been.

My point is very simple: I don’t believe that Mark Jacobs is genuinely interested in a discussion.

That request to open a private forum for him was stupid and wrong on many levels. Mark Jacobs NEVER looked for an honest, passionate discussion. He NEVER participated in our communities. He NEVER gave a damn about anything if not “bullying” his community of choice tricking people to welcome him like a king by promising gifts, beta slots and “WAR swag”.

There are other devs that ARE part of our communities. Brad McQuaid has often used FoH’s forums in the last years to hype his game, Smed and in particular Scott Hartsman also participated in our discussions and today Scott is one of the most respected and esteemed out there BECAUSE of his attitude and sincerity in dealing with the community. The newly born GMG also had a strong presence on the forums and blogs. Raph Koster has always been everywhere and the one who THE MOST always looked for a real participation, who really wanted and encouraged that dialogue more than anyone else.

So what’s the difference between all these people (and I left out MANY) and Mark Jacobs? That ALL these peoples have demonstrated along the months and the years that their interest is GENUINE. That they share a passion and that they are interested in a real dialogue.

Mark Jacobs has NEVER given a damn about anything. If not appearing a few days ago on F13 after not having written ONE post in more than two years and abruptly asking them to open a private forum for him where he could do as he please and feel (along with his game) the center of the attention (actually he’s even confused about what he’s asking). When I saw a bunch of long time members of this community taking the “bait” I felt the need to say what I said.

In the meantime he flamed me back, trying to make believe that I registered on F13 just to troll him. Excuse me, my ideas may be considered shit, but I think I HAVE demonstrated along these years that my passion in these games is SINCERE and that I do love to talk about game design and that I DO look for that kind of constructive, collaborative dialogue MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE ON THE INTERNET. And sorry if I’m not modest in this case, but my passion is not questionable. With this site and my constant participation in the community I believe that AT LEAST I demonstrated that.

If Mark Jacobs was TRULY interested in a participation with the community then he would have done it before. There are hundreds of ways to look for and have that dialogue. From blogs that would fit exactly his selective mindset, as they allow you to discuss what you want to discuss, give credit to who you want to give credit and ignore who you want to ignore, to forums of all kinds.

Other devs are already encouraging that dialogue without any stupid dedicated private forum to bully. But the real point is that, private forum or not, Mark Jacobs couldn’t care less about that kind of involvement and participation. Because he thinks he is superior to all that. And because of that superiority he went asking for the “special treatment” that NO OTHER DEV has never even imagined to ask before.

As on a game forum it is valid the principle: “Who you are is secondary and what matters is that we are equals talking about games”.

So what you say and not the color of your name.

Asking to open a private forum devoted to you and where you decide who has the right to speak and who doesn’t, surely isn’t a good way to encourage an honest and unbiased discussion. It’s just an attempt to manipulate things as you please. Later in that thread (and in a MILLION of other occasions) we have demonstrated that we can have that meaningful, honest discussion about games without the need of any private forum or special policies. But of course Mark Jacobs deserted the thread at that point.

In the end I do HATE perpetuating drama and flames because it stresses and empties me to no end and I don’t take back any satisfaction. If Mark Jacobs is honestly interested discussing games and ideas then he is more then welcome to prove me wrong. I’m just forcing him to drop his mask.

(and my apologies to Lum because he was brought in a wrong discussion)

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Game design has no dignity

If you have a passion for game design you are out of luck, because everyone thinks that he can do a better work than you.

The truth is that game design has no dignity. It’s FALSE that evaluating “game design” is harder than evaluating good art or a good programmer. And it shows. There are out there plenty of games that have terrible engineering or terrible art. There is the exact same amount of arbitrariety. If game design hasn’t a value on its own it’s because it has no DIGNITY. And the reason why many games suffer is because of that. You CANNOT be a game designer because you have studied and researched it, because you have dedicated all yourself to it.

While you CAN AND HAVE to study to become a good programmer, you aren’t allowed to do the same if your discipline is game design. Because “game design” is only a “prize title”, a BADGE you win as reward if you are good at doing something else. Even if you are incompetent in your new role.

You become a game desiger only because you “happen” to be one, as a “drift” from another position that may have nothing to share with game design. It’s like a lottery. Since game design has no dignity and concrete presence on its own, people are told that they must be good at CS, or good programmers, or good artists, or whatever. People finish to work as game designers even if they LACK that competence. Because training and study are considered superfluous for this discipline. Maybe those same people will become good designers, with the time.

It’s acquired, not prerequired for the role. You are allowed to study and learn game design only *after* you received that title. So we have good designer who became *good* desigers AFTER they have been promoted to that role. Because game design is considered a SUBPRODUCT of other disciplines and a “reward” if you did well something completely unrelated. Because there’s no real training. In the meantime games suck because many game designers are promoted from programming and bringing with them a wrong, convoluted mentality that is pretty obvious on many, many titles.

Game design is *its own* discipline, not the reward for a career achieved through other competencies.

So the problem is that there isn’t a culture of game design, and because there isn’t one that game design falls behind, is considered something that EVERYONE can do. Something trivial, something superfluous. Often a reward or prize that has nothing to share with the competence that is being rewarded in the first place. It’s the model and the attitude to be wrong. This is a commonplace that should be fought, because it’s damaging this industry.

And finally, why this website cannot work as a portfolio? It shows how my brain works, it shows the way I approach problems, it shows how I analyze, it shows my critics, what I think of the genre, my approach, my ideas. It shows the way I communicate to people, the way I look for a dialogue and a confrontation, the way I answer to critics and MORE. I don’t see as this has less value than someone showing a portfolio with some drawings or a DVD with 3D works in Maya or 3D studio. I CAN see out there who has good, solid ideas that are possible that I would like expressed in a game, I can see who doesn’t. In a similar way as I can, arbitrarily, say if someone can make good or bad art.

And if I can ALSO make a great mod for UT2004, HL2, NWN2 then I’m showing a different kind of competence that may be irrelevant for a MMO. And this without even recognizing that game design is a so broad concept that has many other different disciplines within. Each of those requiring its own competence and expertise. Each of those requiring study and specialization. The game designer who does world building doesn’t have the same competencies of the game designer who writes and scripts quests, or the game designer who designs the UI, or the game designer who writes the backstory, or the game designer who directs PvP, or the game designer who creates and balances classes, or the game designer who takes care of the economic systems.

What is missing isn’t the concrete material or the possibility to prove a competence. What is missing is the recognition of a discipline that just hasn’t been granted DIGNITY on its own.

The REAL wrong message is that you can “eventually” become a game designer even if you never studied or dedicated yourself to it.

Logic would say that if you want to do something and be good at it you have to study it. No, not for game design. Do something else. Studying game design is superfluous and competence an optional.

That’s the truth that no one will tell you in all those “breaking in” pages.

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