A note on MMORPGs business models

First, remember that MOST people can only see what happened after it happened. Whereas other people learn enough to have a vision of what is going to happen. In a similar way, there are games created for an existing market and audience, and games that deliberately create a market that wasn’t there before, and that suddenly becomes canon and that everything else has to conform to from that point onward. A vision can open new paths, and these new paths become the foundation on which everything else is built.

That said, there’s this widespread myth that free to play has to “replace” subscription models, that it is some unavoidable destination. This discussion is conditioned by the idea of a new model replacing an obsolete one, instead of discussing the game’s own merits. So a game can fail or succeed because of its business model.

The truth of free to play versus subscription models is fairly simple and slightly different from the debates I usually see. The point is that a subscription model is more directly competitive, and so risky. But it is not a case of “new” versus “old”, or a model that is now obsolete. The rise of free to play is motivated by the fact that the market is so competitive no one would survive in a subscription model. Free to play is a way to virtually enlarge the pie. Understood?

The reason is also simple. Players out there can and will buy different games, they can shift their focus from one to the other. Whereas a subscription model leads to a situation where a player will decide on what game to play. It’s very unlikely that a player will maintain multiple subscriptions. So the result is that subscription-based games are much more directly competitive between each other, and only the “King of the Hill” will survive and do well under these conditions. Every other title will fall short and struggle, which is the very simple reason why World of Warcraft dominated all these years. Or the reason why Elder Scrolls Online has to move to a subscription-free model not because subscriptions are a “bad business model”, but merely because the title isn’t valid enough to face the competition of a subscription model. It’s like a two-tiered market where a couple of games can compete at the top and do well with a subscription model, while lesser competitors have to find a way to co-exist with less belligerent business models.

Again, subscription model are still “ideally” the more appropriate business model for a long-term MMORPG that wants to grow as a virtual world, but for the practical needs of a market, and a market where you want to survive, the free to play model offers a way to squeeze more space out of that highly competitive, merciless market.

Instancing – Is bad?

An old thread on F13. Discussing about instancing and why it belongs to PvE.

Instancing is surely needed and valuable today but not because it’s an evolution. The exact contrary.

Instancing is now required because the genre collapsed on itself and noone has been able to create a world. Basically the genre has failed and it’s going back to “just a game” that requires a better compromise to be fun.

Darniaq has pointed some of the reasons about why instancing is interesting and they are all true. My opinion is that instancing is a workaround because the design of these MMOGs hasn’t been able to valorize the massive value.

The fact that these games are massive is becoming a problem. The design failed. So we go back to try to get the best from both worlds: the quick, tailored fun of the instances (cooperative play) and the social aspect of the hubs (like IRC or the message boards).

This is exactly what Richard Garriott anticipated in his interviews years ago. I find it quite depressing.

The basic idea about why I said that mmorpgs have failed is just because they simply don’t take advantage of the massive aspect. This aspect is just a way to be included in a popular genre but it’s obvious that even huge projects like WoW don’t have A CLUE about why they should be massive instead of cooperative/instanced.

We have a bunch of mmorpgs that don’t know why they are mmorpgs. Like a case of lost identity.

And by looking at the concete examples I just see how this fact of being “massive”, in general, it’s not a strenght. But a problem.

So I notice that the easy road is to go back to a model of gameplay that FITS better with these games. The fact is that noone is really developing a mmorpg and now these games are pushing to go back at their origin.

Darniaq, what eldaec said. Instancing not “bad” because it’s a wrong solution. Instancing is the OPTIMAL solution for a type of design. Instancing is the (best) consequence of that type of game.

I don’t like what happened before instancing. I criticize the design that brought to instancing as an optimal solution. This is why I say that the genre has lost its identity.

There are other solutions. No, not in the market it seems. If you simply observe what we have now I agree that instancing is the way to go. But if you look toward a new model you could see how much instancing is the result of a flawed genre.

The fact that another example isn’t present doesn’t mean it is impossible. Or not.

No Geldon, it’s not about a technologic innovation, it’s about a dry design. The genre has hit a wall and now it’s going back to rediscover old technology. Instanced is everything cooperative you already play, from Doom to Counterstrike.

This is Diablo with NOTHING different aside that you have a graphical chat instead of a textual chat.

I don’t see an innovation, nor progress. I see a natural collapse of a situation that hasn’t found an effective way to develop. We are going back because the technology ALREADY supports massive worlds. But the *ideas* still don’t support them.

We are underdeveloped on the ideas, not the technology. We are taking the easy path to dumb down everything and this strategy doesn’t apply just to the gaming industry but pretty much everywhere.

And imho CoH and even WoW aren’t innovative from this perspective. They are the good result of a company that was able to learn from the mistakes of others. It’s about “polishing”. In this case CoH offers PvE. PvE has nothing to share in a massive world and in fact they use instances.

As I said above the result is better and funnier because they brought the game where it belongs: in a cooperative experience. But CoH isn’t a mmorpg from this point of view. Take Ultima Online and CoH and you see that, aside the setting, one strives to be a word, the other strives to be an arcade.

Now I don’t say CoH isn’t a good game because it is an arcade. I don’t think that building a good game like that isn’t noteworthy, but it’s simply not what a mmorpg should be. Or where the true potential to discover is.

Instancing is a profitable workaround but isn’t about addressing the real problem to move further.

Instead of surpassing the obstacle they are going backward.

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

[Wish] Refreshing the memory

This is what I wrote on the forums of Wish at the end of the second phase of beta (12-2003/01-2004). Then I left to never go back.

I “wish” (considerations about everything)

This is a collection of considerations about everything.
I don’t want to state the obvious but it’s written by me. Me as a person. So it will be negative, perhaps, but only because I don’t care at all about packing my thoughts nicely so that they could be “better accepted”. I don’t care to be “better accepted” if I need to be different. It’s about honesty. The other important point is that the aim is to be useful, I hope. Whatever I write comes from the hope to be useful. I can be absolutely negative but that doesn’t mean that I’m having fun blaming someone or something. So the purpose could be already utopian, I refuse to present things in a way that can help who reads to understand and I refuse to underline where these words could be useful. But I gain the honesty and I believe that honesty is the only way to share thoughts in a positive way. I have the 99.9% of possibilities that noone will read this and will laugh at me, but 0.01% that what I write will be really understood and be useful. It’s worth the effort.

What are we talking about here? Creating another mmorpg.
It’s here the whole point. “Another”. There are already many finished projects and many plans of new projects, is this a speculation on a new trend? Perhaps. But we all know that ‘speculation’ isn’t interesting and at the end the only interesting parts are about the “original idea” and the persistence of this idea even among the clones. But this is too far away from the point I want to focus on. The purposes about creating a new mmorpg are two: collecting what has already been done to ‘adjust’ it in a better direction or fire the creativity to uncover the hidden potential with new ideas.

Creativity = uncover hidden parts of reality (Niklas Luhmann).
Creativity is about originality for the simple reason that something already discovered cannot be re-discovered.
So, or you deal with “art” or you deal with “competition”.

Considering that we are talking about mmorpgs you can understand that the competition is the market. In this case it means that you will offer a game among “colossals”, like Sony, Blizzard, Microsoft etc… Is it safe to go against them? Hardly. Perhaps the market is big enough to contain everyone, perhaps not. However you’ll have to consider what’s your aim. If you want to steal a big slice of cake or if the crumbs in a corner are enough to survive happily. Competition in this case isn’t fair. Fairness = having the same starting point. Mutable Realms hasn’t the same starting point of Sony. They do not have millions of dollars to waste, they don’t have the hype, they don’t have a zerg of experienced staff etc… What they can produce cannot be compared with what Sony produces for the simple reason that they started from different conditions. Who cares? At the end of the reasoning there are the users. These users will pay more or less the same amount to play two games and when they’ll choose they won’t care about the fairness of the development.

The conclusion here is straight. You can compete with these corporations, on the same product, only if you accept to survive in a niche. Hoping that even the tiny space you have won’t be devoured. There’s still the other way to go, a work of art. We are dealing with culture here, because a game is “culture”. Culture is always about art, because it’s a work of the mind. The mind is the contingence, possibility. In this case the possibility to do better than Sony? By only accepting a game as “art” you open your possibilities to do whatever you desire, till your imagination (creativity) will go. It was impossible in the other way (competition). Still remembering that a game is a work of art, but has also an important technical part to found it.

The main question throughout this beta phase has been: where this game is aiming?

It’s a translation of “what’s new?”. The reason why I’m here in the first place is that I read interviews to Dave, the Lead Designer that is now gone. I’m part of those wannabe designers that are passionate players and aren’t happy about what the market offers. I know where mmorpgs are lacking, I know what the users are asking for, I know how this can be delivered in a realistic way and it easy for me to track where all the mistakes are. Most of the times even to foresee them. Burn-out. I’m a depressed, disappointed player that doesn’t hope anymore that someone will guess the right way and deliver what I’m asking for. So I rant and complain, often in a useless, childish way. What’s left?

Dave was the instillation of a glimpse of “life” (creativity!). I read what he wrote and I agreed to his point, to his aim. That’s the right way to go. Finally. Perhaps I can forget about dumb marketers that are destroying all the potential in mmorpgs. Let’s see. This was the origin of the interest. I’m here because I consider this worth my attention, after years of disappointments. Let’s gather the last hopes and see if someone is able to do what I “wish”. I’m here for the beta because I don’t care about having fun, this is obvious. It’s the interest that brings me here, to see if it’s going to be another disappointment or not. And offer my two cents, as always. Not really hoping that they’ll be considered. This is the base, the premise. But also the structure of everything else, the game in particular.

It’s fun if you ask me now “what I don’t like in Wish and I want to be improved”. Because it’s the design. Dave coincides with all the good and all the bad in this game. He’s both the reason why this game is worth everything and nothing.

So where are the merits or the faults? Peoples think this way but the reality is more funny. Dave isn’t to blame at this point. He pointed his finger in the right direction, he did the first step (along with the game) in that direction. And he left for reasons that I don’t know and I’m not able to discuss. I’m not going to judge him. No critiques, no praises. From the design point of view this game is empty. It’s a copy of a few features of Ultima Online, in a 3D world.

It’s something, not much.

Ultima has many features and good points that new games have forgotten, it’s not a bad thing to collect them. It’s never a bad thing to collect what’s good around you (the true meaning of competition = going together toward something). But in this case the path is worth if the destination is. If these first steps are already the goal we aren’t going anywhere. *yawn* You know, at the end someone will blame the lack of marketing, the lack of name and someone other will say again that PvP will never attract many users. This brings me the anger, because the reasons, the true reasons, are elsewhere. And the stupids will banquets on this.

Wish is a body that lost the head.

Dave was a possible head. He expected to do a good work, I expected him to do something worth the attention that could give a positive sign to the rest of the market. The Vision (TM). Where the Vision is just a collection of eye-stabbing problems in the common mmorpgs… Dave wasn’t important because he was the only talented at MR, so that he could have brought a crappy company to the success, he was important because he ‘offered’ and ‘suggested’ the work of art. He offered and suggested what Wish could have brought new to the genre as a whole. What’s new? This. We are offering something that you won’t find in World of Warcraft or in Everquest 2. We won’t offer the same stale, stupid design. We are here to open the eyes. Shake away from a stupid doom where all the mmorpgs seem to finish.

Open the eyes, realize what for Blizzard and Sony could be so easy to do but too big to understand. To teach them that all their money are worth nothing without ideas.

And laugh.
This is the Vision.


What happened in a month?

The plans have changed. I expected someone to take Dave’s place. I was worried about this because whoever will do that will have to regain my trust. The head falls, if there will be a new one I’ll have to reconsider it. The previous “aim” was lost. Is it going to be recovered?

This is beta 1.5.

Is Wish aiming toward the same points that brought me here? Something changed.

The first news has been that noone took Dave’s place. And this is even worst. The body decided it could do without the head. The body realized that the head was worth nothing but a problem and it decided that it could provide what it needs on its own. Good luck.

This is called psychotic, when the little point you see is your whole dimension. Till you are inside that little point. From a more realistic point of view “Wish” stopped. The ideas that Dave suggested are still there, the base of the game as well. And the crude reality: Wish offers nothing new. A clone of Ultima Online with a so-so graphic. Nothing to see, move on. Since I consider Dave’s ideas a ‘direction’, what he realised concretely isn’t worth much. We are talking about potential. Building a mmorpg is the same as growing (creativity, life). If growing (from stale ideas in the genre) isn’t anymore the aim, the whole project sinks. If you are pleased of the point you reached, and stop, what you have done isn’t worth much. It’s like starting university without finishing it (and in mmorpgs there’s no end). You learnt something useful, sure, but if you don’t use that you aren’t going far. You stop, and, slowly, die (life is always tied to movement and change, it’s continuity).

But Wish hasn’t stop. It changed direction.

“Bring the RP (roleplay) back in the MMORPG acronym”

This is the new direction. How to spice an empty game. The crappy model of a sword becoming epic, simple GM-driven NPCs becoming legends. The monotony of a game that doesn’t offer anything (aside dumb monster bashing and a basic guild system in a generic fantasy setting that feels more like a container than a living world) turned into something valuable. Faked.

We have no game here to offer, sorry. So we are going to fake it.

The roleplay is, at the end, a game of parts, where you let your fantasy run. And imagine a game where there’s only a skeleton of a game. And it worked…

The testers are happy, the rants at a minimum. It’s a big success and devs can be proud of it. But.. *prods* where’s the game? Where is the new approach that some of us expected?
(this “bubble of happiness” will last long?)

And I’m still at that point, wondering if this is still the same game or it’s something that betrayed my expectations and so it’s better for me and for the game to move away quickly. The game here is between “we left behind Dave’s ideas because they have been only wasted time” and “that’s it, we have everything, can’t you see?”.

No, I cannot see.

I followed all this on different premises, everyone is faking that nothing changed but you aren’t going to fool me, I’m still the burnout player. Promises or positive thoughts enter from an ear and exit from the other. Where are the ideas?


I’m not going to stop here. I already know all the answers from devs to these questions. They are going to enter a new development phase. They have a “TO-DO list” a few kilometers long. But I’m not going to trust them, sorry. This is going to be a patchwork, I haven’t seen a dev, in these two months, that is experienced enough to lead a project with a decent scope. The work of a team needs to be directed. A project like this needs a precise aim, a soul. Without a soul, an ambition, and without creativity the whole thing is short-sighted and is going to fail. The last signs I’m noticing aren’t good.

The new berserk run into GM content after they saw the players reacting positiviely till the new request to ask to vote the suggestions. How depressing.

I’m not delving into these problems, there have been already discussions about GM content and another new one about the votes is too complex and not worth consideration. The sign is clear, Wish is in a survival mode. “The Vision” not only is dead, but never existed.

Dave never worked at MR and Wish never aimed to solve the problems behind the PvP system and all the rest.

It was a dream.

Reality check. I’m not announcing doom. Wish, structured in this way, could aim for a tiny niche market and build a solid community around roleplay. There’s much to do in this direction, building tools for GMs, add content and finish the world, finalize the systems below (combat, crafting), finalize the client/server structure. It’s a lot of work that can be done in less than a year, so aimed realistically. What’s the scope? I expect the same of Eve-Online (fantasy settings are preferred from the players but this also means that Eve has no direct competitors)… They will hardly reach more than 15-20.000 users and only a nonstop work on the game could make the game grow. Slowly.

The rp communities are always tiny but they have also the quality to be really strong. Considering that with 20.000 testers you are aiming to a max of 3 to 4k of players online at the same time. But this will happen only after the first months without some ideas in the marketing (like letting download the game and things like that).

It’s the ambition which died.

I expected a lot from Wish but it seems that in the end it will offer just this: a UO-generic 3D game with a solid community, decent communication with devs, decent stability. It’s not little, it’s not much. Wish lost completely the creativity and the push toward being the anomaly in the market. It won’t follow Mythic in the path to success without ideas, good ideas. My enthusiasm is gone from some time and the “bah, whatever” feeling is back.

An opportunity lost, perhaps it’s really the doom. The doom that new ideas will always be devoured by short-sighted moneymaking and arid specialists. Wish won’t disturb the market, it will enter it and take a little slice of the pie, sitting quietly.

Not a “doom” for Wish.

It’s a few weeks that I’m asking myself if I’m worth something here or not. I write for the sole purpose of being positive, but everyone loves to attack me, directly or indirectly. Ok, this is good, but useful? I don’t mean for myself, is it useful for the game? If critics and all the rest are just taken as an offence I’m really wasting my time and just ruin others experiences. I’m a disturbance. Considering why I first came here I should also reconsider if my presence is positive or, instead, counterproductive.

I’m a player and a wannabe designer at the end. If things will go wrong I won’t be happy. I point my finger because I can have my own ideas about what’s happening but not a way to “use” this. I cannot demonstrate in any way that what I think will solve mmorpgs problems (and will offer success, so money). There’s only the ranting left.

And after a few years even the rants are becoming “noise”.
Pointless, worthless noise that needs to be shut up.

HRose – I “wished” it was the right game

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

Flat Power Treadmill

I save here a mail I wrote on MUD-dev months ago where I delve some more in the problem between new/casual players within a game world shared with old/hardcore players. Touching important problems like the content segregating the players and the difference in power in a PvP environment based on treadmills (Realm Points, perks, abilities). This also corresponds to a port of the old forum to the forum engine in Drupal. It isn’t great but since I use it mostly as a lumber room it will do the work without needing to mantain multiple engines and databases.

It’s interesting because my opinion changed on some core points. For example it is true that treadmills create gaps between the players as a direct consequence, but they also build groups, helping the players to find themselves in the same problem/situation and cooperate. This within a “manageable” condition (a small group of players in a specific zone and with a specific purpose/quest). Typical example where World of Warcraft shines (and the PvP system works because of this zone-based fragmentation). Instead other games like Eve-Online are so open-ended and without a specific direction that groups are way harder to build and need a lot more effort from the player to really pierce the surface of the game instead of just drifting and playing in solo-mode.

As I wrote recently in various forums: I find myself having a way better social experience in Warcraft than, say, Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies or Eve-Online. Even if the focus of the design of all these games is effectively reverted.

Raph Koster:
I think we can agree that designing a game that discourages players from playing regularly is probably a bad idea (at least in terms of mass acceptance–some games, like turn based games, PBEM, etc, have some flex here). Designing a game which allows players not to HAVE to play regularly, however, seems desirable.

I agree here. I was attacking the idea because there are games going in this direction. For example Eve-Online has an advancement system (aside the money) that is time-based and really just requires you to log in from time to time, start train a skill and log off.

So a more interesting point is surely about *how* we give depth to a game without requiring the players to play more than they are able to. This is an inner problem for every power treadmill that has the result of producing gaps between the players. It’s an interesting design problem for one of the core issues about mmorpgs and the “mass market”.

But the context of the discussion was different. The context was that, from the money perspective, it’s better to have the players in the game as little as possible to spare on the bandwidth costs. In this case the players and the gameplay aren’t anymore the reason of the design and it’s where the situation becomes “dangerous”. Because a possible result following this strategy isn’t good and won’t be successful.

I have many design ideas on how to solve the problem about “Casual Crowd vs.Time Rich Crowd” and they are along the lines of creating different structures inside the game where different players have different roles and goals. Where casual players have a specific role and goal and where time rich crowds have another. And the *key* is about giving them different roles but making they play *together* with the same general goal.

The difficulty here is that is the roles have contributions to the goal inversely proportionate to the time investment required, that people will start to cross the roles in search of maximum return. The time-rich players will take on the casual roles because they offer greater reward for time invested. And if the casual roles do NOT offer greater reward for time invested, then they will not feel rewarding to the casual players either, who will compare themselves to the time-rich players and cry foul.

The difficulty would be sharing a given metric across both roles–and if there is a shared goal, there will most certainly be some form of shared metric. I’d tend to approach this in terms of orthognal but equally valid goals, ideally with interesting intersections.

I find hard to keep reasoning on an abstract level. While writing I was thinking to a particular PvP model where the players have access to different ranks and roles based on a treadmill. These ranks and roles define how you play in the -same- battle allowing each player to still group together and play in the -same- situation. What isn’t considered is the strict “power difference”. An higher rank doesn’t gain more powerful skills for himself (so that he could be able to kill more easily a lower rank in a 1vs1 battle). Instead it just gains access to a different role and specific gameplay. For him to gain this role he must be in a group where there are other players with lower ranks. Without lower ranks he isn’t “high rank”. To play his role he needs the support of the lower ranks. So they play side by side (the goal and focus of my idea).

The point is that a casual player can join the battle even if still at the bottom of the treadmill. This won’t mean that he’ll be uneffective or forced in an unfun role. The gameplay can still be designed to be fun for everyone but different for various players. As it happens when you have different classes in a group: a different role for each player but within the same situation.

In my more specific idea a greater rank actually IS more powerful. But the power works inside a battle system where we can build a group of ten players and only *one* of those can be designed as a “General” and so with a specific set of powers. In this case you can go through a treadmill and become a general yourself but:
1- You’ll never reach a point where EVERYONE MUST be a general. Because there will be only 1 each 10 players. Nominated by them through a voting system.
2- Whoever doesn’t have the time to “apply” for that position will keep enjoing the game in that precise moment and will still have available an advancement system to pursue but not where he is *forced* to arrive to reach the fun or see new content previously forbidden.

This is similar to the point above: “Designing a game which allows players not to HAVE to play regularly” but still rewarding you when you do. Incentivating to play without rushing to play.

A possibility without an obligation. Accessibility, not necessity.

The idea just came out from observing the actual organization of mmorpgs. In raids there are always leaders. These leaders have obviously an higher time investment into the game but their characters are still powerful as any other player. What I did with my idea is to institutionalize what already was happening adding gameplay depth to the system. Building more different roles needing active players.

I’d love to read some opinions about this because it’s part of the basics of my “dream mmorpg” and I want to know how solid or possible is what I planned.

Just to explain better from a different perspective. Think to a traditional mmorpg where you can choose various classes/races. The system is simply built so that you only have “x” classes/races unblocked as you open an account. But if you max out one, gain “x” numbers of special points (treadmill based on the endgame, after you maxed out your power), you are able to “unblock” a new race or class that can bel cool but still not more powerful or effective than what you played till that moment. This means that in the game there’s a reward but this reward isn’t required.

My battle system for PvP goes even beyond this. In fact you will be able to “unblock” ranks and roles in PvP. But you don’t automatically gain everything. Instead in each specific situation you can be “choosed” to be a general or remain a normal player.

-HRose / Abalieno

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

[Stress Test] A collection of complaints

I’m following various boards that are frequented by jaded mmorpg veterans and even boards where I can discuss with players less experienced.

Till now the Stress Test is a success. The server was supposed to explode, instead everything seems quite smooth and, so far, beyond the level of many games at release. This made the players complain about smaller issues, like the customization of the characters, the interface, the camping of spawn points and so on.

I tried to gather a list of the complaints to examine them and see what could be the possible solutions.

– Problem: Players complain about the lack of customization, in particular after we all got spoiled by games like SWG, CoH and even EQ2. WoW feels like a 1st generation mmorpg where everyone looks the same and where you are forced to choose one of the few combinations that the devs prepared.

– Solution: The discussion got deeper and I think we started to agree that the customization doesn’t mean that much when just after a few levels your body will be completely covered by the armor. So we concluded that the possibility to customize and look differently with the use of equipment is way more important for this game. The fact that all the players will directly min/max the equipment will mean that if an objects is powerful everyone will use it. So the solution is about working on the “aspect” of the equipment even more that its power. Having the same stats on something, but a different aspect, could help to offer a graphical customization without having to loose “power”. On the other side Blizzard could work to, at least, add the height for a model. DAoC has three choices: small, medium, tall. I think the same system can be implemented in WoW without ruining the racial differences. It was stated before that there could be problems with animations but what I ask is a simple “rescale” of the model. So you rescale everything, animations and equipment included. It shouldn’t be hard to implement and won’t affect the performance. On the other level we’ll have a possibility of customization that will matter above the equipment.

– Problem: Crowded newbie zones. Considering that the servers held the stress, this became the biggest problem. As too many players join the game, various bottlenecks are created, ruining the experience for everyone.

– Solution: I don’t think that making the newbie zone large will help. We must remember that this is a situation that will only last a few days and a mmorpg, instead, has a value on the long distance, along the years. Blizzard could as well completely ignore this issue and let the players suffer this problem for the first days. But at the same time we all know that it’s *crucial* the impression you get of the game right at the start. So. My opinion is that nothing should be done aside working perhaps on the respawn rules. A good idea should be about tweaking them by looking constantly at the number of player in the zone. Another good idea could be about adding a “cool off” effect to a spawning mob, so that it won’t aggro a player before 15-20 seconds have passed (like spawning the mob in a shaded form and make it 100% solid after the cool off timer is over). This will avoid the problem of mobs popping over players but it’s also a cheap trick that may broken even more the suspension of disbelief. Another, even better, solution could be to instance the newbie zones. This could happen in the very few occasions when the place gets *too* crowded. So you put an “emergency” limit to these newbie zones and create another instance when things go beyond that limit. In this way we erase overcrowding during the first days without messing and triggering other problems (like making newbie zones too dispersive when the number of players will decrease).

Dealing with instances is dangerous, though. The problem is deeper and I’ve wrote about this back in May:

– Problem: Players complain about default options and general interface issues. For example it’s *not acceptable* that an user must edit a config file to play in windowed mode or to set the Hertz of the monitor. Other questionable choices are about not showing NPCs names by default and the drag and drop occurring to equip an object (peoples complain about the inventory being separated from the character sheet).

– Solution: If the game is going to be released soon it’s time to focus even on the polish. You need to figure out what’s the best for the default options. EQ players complain that the inventory doesn’t come up if you press “i”. This isn’t a big issue but you need to go throughout all the options and define what’s better for a default mode that is easy to manage for a new user. In particular NPC names MUST be on by default. It’s important that everything you need should be enabled so that the user, with the experience, can choose something else. Not acceptable is when you cannot access the options from the interface. This needs to go *completely*. We must be allowed to choose the windowed mode, the refresh of the monitor and other more “hard-core” issues by the options menu. Perhaps in an “advanced” tab. But noone should be forced to mess with a config file. It’s actually ridiculous that you just put up a page for the screenshots explaining to the players how they can use the console to type a command and remove the “onscreen names” (I’m referring to the screenshot page). These options MUST be in the game and keymapped. About the issue of “drag and drop” equipment: clicking to equip isn’t possible because of the “risk” to sell stuff while fiddling with a vendor. My suggest solution is to create a “drop area” near where the bags are so that we drag and drop there, and not throughout the screen. This worked back in Beta 2 when it was possible to drag an item to an empty bag slot to equip it. Another important feature that vanished without a reason.

– Problem: Players love the “discovery exp” when you discover a new place on the map.

– Solution: Well, this isn’t a problem. but we know that it’s a broken system later on, because the experience you gain remains ridiculous. So I suggest Blizzard to look into this. Players love this feature so you need to make it a bit more valuable. Balancing the experience so that it will still matter even at high levels.

– Problem: The Rest System is incomprehensible.

– Solution: This is an issue. You cannot expect players to read complex patch notes to figure out a mechanic. If the Rest System is supposed to remain in the game it must be polished so that the players will understand how it works easily. They should be able to check how much they have rested and the exact effect that the rest will have in “x” hours. This should become easy to understand with the use of the interface. Right now I don’t know if the system is bugged or not but it’s absolutely impossible to understand its behaviour.

– Problem: The game needs a more social environment. Players complain about the lack of depth aside mob-bashing.

– Solution: This is a complex issue that I’ll partially dodge here. My solution is about giving more depth to the cities without forcing downtimes into the players. We need fun and interesting activities to pass time in a city. A lot, a lot of potential lies here. So please step down from EverQuest’s model for a moment and start to develop something that will offer this. Different activities not directly involved with achieving more power (treadmills). Different development paths, different aims. I’m not asking for a completely new game but just for something that will give the game some depth aside the treadmill. I have too many ideas about this. Just use some creativity and detach on this aspect the game from the mmorpg model.

– Problem: There are dreaded “collect quests” that are no fun to do (due to the incostant behaviour of drops) and disrupt the incentive to group with other players because, if you do, your chance to get the rare stack of loot will drop exponentially and you’ll hit the other big problem: not enough mobs to gather all the drops you need to complete the quest. A major issue that becomes critic when there are many players around doing the same quest and chasing the same drops.

– Solution: This goes directly against a basic issue that is being discussed in various boards and is also a basic mechanic shared between various mmorpgs. The “rule” is: a mmorpg should reward and incentivate the players to group and play together. The more the better. But still trying to make the solo experience viable, because noone wants to log and sit down for an hour to find a party. “Collect quests” are broken because they go against this concept without any good reason. Grouping with other peoples is good for “kill” quests. Because the goal is shared and so you benefit from having other players with you. Instead the drops (aside named drops) aren’t shared, this means that if you are in a group your “successful rate” will go down. This is stupid in a mmorpg, it’s a mechanic that goes *against* the social aspect, something that should be *always* rewarded even if not enforced. It’s a good thing to make solo a viable path but it’s wrong if you incentivate to play solo when it’s *possible* to form a group. This problem is also tied to overcrowding because you are creating a “competition” between the players. Since they aren’t able to cooperate, you are forcing them to go against each other and this is a CONSTANT for griefing, killstealing and other bad behaviours. This doesn’t help the game, nor the fun of the players. A very simple solution should be, at least, to let the quest-drops to be shared between the players in a group. This will reward once again grouping (so healing a broken mechanic) and will help the bottleneck that are formed when too many players are camping the same spot for the same quest.


Other suggestions here

Now I want to add a few words on the “general impression”. The impression of the players varies a lot. There are some who love the game but I think that in general everyone is pleased but absolutely not surprised or particularly excited. Many have already branded the game as EQ 1.5. A lot is about the expectations. My personal expectations are set *extremely low* after years of experience in the genre and in fact I love WoW. I love the setting and I love how it plays. But one thing is sure: this is far from being a “dream mmorpg”. It feels like a single player game and, as you see, as we introduce the “massive” aspect everyone starts to fight because there’s competition for a spawn point.

After a bit all this feels faked, pointless and boring. WoW is really, really polished but not different from a single player game with basically no purpose and depth that tries hard to roleplay as a “mmorpg”. Because this is what I criticize in the game from months: a single player/cooperative game roleplaing as a mmorpg.

What this Stress Test teaches is about the genre as a whole. This time we are not at Star Wars Galaxies launch, dealing with server and client crashing and broken design and bugs everywhere. This game isn’t about broken promises. WoW delivers what it is expected to deliver:

Yes, it’s a polished EQ type game. That is the aim, that is what they are delivering.

Or as someone else defines it: “It’s a nifty world as a background for a specific narrow type of gameplay”.

So peoples are pleased and at the same time already bored because things have improved without really changing. Something that is shared with other games. For example this is what Loral wrotes on Mobhunter, one of the most places discussing EverQuest:

Omens of War brings us over a dozen new zones, half of them instanced. It expands the physical worlds of Norrath even further. I wonder if SOE might best spend their time working on new expansions that take Everquest into directions other than new zones to explore. Everquest is certainly wide, it is the largest physical game I’ve ever played, but it isn’t very deep. The vast majority of content builds around combat against bosses. The numbers increase but the gameplay is generally the same. New lines of progression need to be developed.

I really think that it’s still possible to push on the experimentation without loosing the touch with the mass market. Actually I think that this genre still isn’t mass market BECAUSE there’s little to no improvement.

One of the directions that WoW should explore is about creating systems and dynamics. In particular when it comes to PvP. Systems make the game lively, with a purpose. This without throwing continuously at the players “more of the same”. Rising the level cap to excuse the process.

I think that veteran players are bored of this but I’m also sure that new players are full of dreams that will shatter when they’ll touch what this genre really delivers (sorry Raph ;) )

I keep hearing that Blizzard is working on a PvP reward and I really fear this because noone talks about a PvP “purpose”. A reward without a purpose is “yet another treadmill” and this is depressing.

A lot should be done to polish and work out the problems that will become manifest with the time. In particular the combat can result fast and fun in the initial levels but after a bit it also becomes completely chaotic and messy. This is due to many technical problems like a lack of integrity. Mobs warp everywhere, have strange pathing issues, lack of a Line of Sight. The animation system is broken with stuck and out-of-synch animations. And the spells behave strangely when offscreen, appearing in wrong locations. The last straw was about adding Hunters and enormous pets that in a dungeon take the whole screen making nearly impossible to play.

What will happen when we are supposed to fight in large raids both in PvE and PvP? The game will become a random mess of colored polygons? Things must be looked at. The animations and spell effects must be polished and synchronized. The mobs should move around in a realistic way and should stop “cheating”. Hunters’ pets must be rescaled.

And along this work about basic issues, the design should be developed to give some depth to the game. To stop adding treadmills and attach to the game a real purpose. Without it the PvP will continue to be a grief fest. Because griefing is still the only “impact” possible you have on the world.

I also suggested some time ago a complete system to make the PvP fun and interesting:

What is important is that a different path must be choosed and developed to give the game a future and some ambition *after* release. Both for new players and mmorpg veterans.

Also, in regards to your PVP article ( http://www.cesspit.net/drupal/node/view/135 ) I was kind of curious how zerg gameplay would be discouraged by the things you suggest.

I’m a long time DAoC player and ranter. So I know extremely well the zerg issue. I also wrote a lot about it in the last months.

Population issues cannot be solved in a traditional way because you cannot force the players to play this or that. So, or you force the system with instanced zones where you are able to cap the population (this will happen in the Battlegrounds) or you deal with the problem more directly.

The “zerg issue” is a non-issue. It’s true that, as you say, there’s a bad zerg form that “cause battles to be too quick, unstrategic, and one-sided”. The point is to give some depth to this.

There are three ways to deal with the problem. Or you follow Mythic strategy about ignoring the issue and applying really silly workarounds like they are doing now, or you “minimize” the effect of the unbalance how you suggest (but how? that’s the point). Or you follow my idea: use the unbalance to originate fun and interesting gameplay.

I start from the idea that playing in an overpowered faction isn’t so interesting or cool. From a roleplay point of view it’s a lot more exciting to play in the faction that is outnumbered. It will give your actions a bigger epic purpose and what you’ll achieve will have a greater value. This is exactly where the unbalance can become DIRECTLY a strength for the game, instead that a big issue.

The strategy, so, it’s exactly about how you can make the gameplay still fun when fighting for a faction that is outnumbered. The unbalance isn’t anymore a gameplay problem, instead it can be transformed in a source for interesting gameplay. The rules of the game must obviously support and incentivate the fun of playing within these conditions.

In WoW it’s still impossible to shape all this because we don’t know the reward nor the purpose of the PvP (if it will have one). And unbalance problems can only be solved by shaping “systems”. WoW at this moment lacks completely of any game system that isn’t grief. Because, as I said, griefing is the only impact you can have on the world.

My suggestion was about fleshing out a complete battle system that is aimed to give depth to the zerg play. Because I consider it a lot of fun if designed in a good way. The unbalance problem wasn’t adressed because it lies on a level above. The control and purpose of various structures that you can conquer will have a role into this.

The strategy is about making a list of the strength of an unbalance faction. This is easy to do even by looking at DAoC. Large zergs are unorganized, chaotic. They move slowly and have a general “dumb” reaction. A smaller group could be able to attack the bigger realm on different points, quickly and before the bigger realm can react. The goal is exactly to focus on all these dynamics to then give them value into the game and incentivate them.

But *before* discussing all this Blizzard must solve basic flaws in the combat system. I really think that we are discussing something completely out the scope of the game and, once again, we should better set the expectations really low because I don’t think Blizzard is going to develop a PvP system that isn’t different from another excuse for a treadmill (since they focus on the “reward” and not on the purpose).

I suppose the PvP will mostly become an alternate path to level up (in Battlegrounds). While the PvP on the landmass won’t change from the actual state, aside more rules to patch the grief problem. What I mean is that there’s still no sign of a possible endgame based on a game system that is able to renew itself without requiring a continuous flow of new content.

After a bit it will happen for WoW what happened for EQ. A flat development that will throw continuously the player “more of the same”. Making the old content obsolete by offering “new shinies” and excusing the process by rising continuously the level cap (or new skills or similar systems).

This not only cannibalizes the old content without really adding anything to the game. But it will make harder and harder for new players to join and have fun. Because the gap between new characters and veteran will simply increase with the time as the result of the “flat development”.

This is one of the reason why this genre still isn’t mass market. Too much time dependence for games that don’t offer any kind of depth. New players approach this genre really hoping for a simulation of a fantasy setting. Not only they discover that the game doesn’t offer anything of what they expect, but they also continuously expereince accessibility problems (check the link above from Raph’s homepage)

Another frequent complaint I hear from stress testers has been discussed many times during the beta and it’s still a big issue that shouldn’t be ignored:

– Problem: There are dreaded “collect quests” that are no fun to do (due to the incostant behaviour of drops) and disrupt the incentive to group with other players because, if you do, your chance to get the rare stack of loot will drop exponentially and you’ll hit the other big problem: not enough mobs to gather all the drops you need to complete the quest. A major issue that becomes critic when there are many players around doing the same quest and chasing the same drops.

– Solution: This goes directly against a basic issue that is being discussed in various boards and is also a basic mechanic shared between various mmorpgs. The “rule” is: a mmorpg should reward and incentivate the players to group and play together. The more the better. But still trying to make the solo experience viable, because noone wants to log and sit down for an hour to find a party. “Collect quests” are broken because they go against this concept without any good reason. Grouping with other peoples is good for “kill” quests. Because the goal is shared and so you benefit from having other players with you. Instead the drops (aside named drops) aren’t shared, this means that if you are in a group your “successful rate” will go down. This is stupid in a mmorpg, it’s a mechanic that goes *against* the social aspect, something that should be *always* rewarded even if not enforced. It’s a good thing to make solo a viable path but it’s wrong if you incentivate to play solo when it’s *possible* to form a group. This problem is also tied to overcrowding because you are creating a “competition” between the players. Since they aren’t able to cooperate, you are forcing them to go against each other and this is a CONSTANT for griefing, killstealing and other bad behaviours. This doesn’t help the game, nor the fun of the players. A very simple solution should be, at least, to let the quest-drops to be shared between the players in a group. This will reward once again grouping (so healing a broken mechanic) and will help the bottleneck that are formed when too many players are camping the same spot for the same quest.


I also suggest to make the respawn timers variable. Making them quicker if a monster-type is killed repeatedly.

Another good choice should be to add a bonus for the group directly on the experience to incentivate grouping. The experience drops too much when playing in a group and this, once again, isn’t a good mechanic.

Other discussions are still about the depth of the game. Many are commenting that WoW offers a very narrow gameplay type. Which isn’t bad on itself. But there’s surely a need to “develop” it toward the strength of a mmorpg: the social aspect, the cooperation, the interaction with the world. Many agree when I say that WoW feels too much as a single player game. It isn’t bad because it will help newbies to slowly experience this fascinating genre. But then? It’s important that their entree is easy but, then, you also need to offer them something more. Something unique. Something that is *different* from a standard, singleplayer game.

Something that will “stand out” when games like “Guild Wars” will try to sell something else as a mmorpg.

And this is exactly what a mmorpg SHOULD offer. A community that cooperates to achieve a result, to modify or control the world and the systems ruling the world. More concretely: the players also need something that “excuses” this level-based treadmill. There’s the need of something important and different at the end and not just another, longer treadmill for powerful loot and elite professions. Or even an higher level cap.

The endgame should excuse the treadmill. To offer a purpose, to offer involvement. It shouldn’t be another checkpoint for an infinite treadmill that will become just boring and, above all, pointless.

So it’s here that the game should and needs to change. It’s where a more complex form of PvP can be deployed to give more power to the players and let them *change* the world, fight an epic war that isn’t just faked between various static quests or instanced battlegrounds with no real history.

It’s both where the players should cooperate and where the world should become dynamical. Where the mmorpg, as a genre, should show its strength.

If you fail to do so you’ll still have a beautiful game but players will keep asking themselves if it wasn’t better as a single player game:

Even though the systems for kills and quests in WoW work fairly well, it still makes me think the same thing all mmos make me think. ‘Man, this game would be sooo much better if there weren’t any other people.’

I also add another comment review from a guy called El Gallo:

WoW is not revolutionary and not intended to be so. It is EQ 1.5. Slightly dumbed-down, technologically updated, much more user-friendly, low downtime, soloable, and more directly involves your character in the game’s story/lore. I have been enjoying it a lot, but then again I enjoyed EQ for a long time, I just wished that it wasn’t so punitive, had less downtime, a little more story involvement, and was more soloable. WoW fits that bill, and does so with a well-done world that matches EQ’s level of atmosphere and detail. WoW is, imo, the only “EQ clone” that is better than EQ. All the others are “EQ done worse”.

If you are one of the people who rage against core EQ style gameplay, WoW is not for you. If you spend evenings furiously &@$%&#$@%ing over UOs dread lord days, WoW is not for you. If you want "EQ done better” then WoW might work for you.

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

Blizzard: All Your Base Are Belong To Us

This is the entire review/manifesto I wrote in March, three days after having access to the beta of World of Warcraft.

Blizzard: All Your Base Are Belong To Us. (the title didn’t fit the space)

This is an odd review/essay about the game. I’ve written it along a few days and in various moments I got carried on writing about things that are usually off the scope of a review. In this case I tried to point out where Blizzard has succeeded in making an already wonderful game, trying to take into consideration even the small things because I think WoW is completely different from mmorpgs we had on the market till now and, so, you simply cannot try to look at it from an “old” point of view. You cannot even understand its value and scope without a new approach. I would say that this happens when a game starts a complete new genre. You need new criterions and a new point of view to understand it.

In this case I strongly believe that WoW is already a *revolution* in many parts. One of the first ideas about this revolution is that all these parts are not even “divisible”. WoW comes as a totally new experience as a “whole”, something I will repeat often. You cannot focus on parts of the game system because everything is there for a reason and in a complex and *deep* relationship between every other part of the game. Things and systems like the client engine, the music, the graphic style, the combat system and so on… Everything cannot be considered just on its own. You simply cannot get their value if you aren’t able to place them all together. And this is the main reason why it is *impossible* to understand the value and the feel of this game if you haven’t the possibility to play it directly.

So, from a side, I tried to find this new approach and explain where and why WoW is a revolution, despite it looks “more of the same” from the outside. From the other side, as I said, I got carried on, trying to catch (ravingly) Blizzard’s attention, and pointing out what I think will be important in the future of this project, both in the near and long distance. So, in some parts of this excessively long and wasteful report, you’ll see me stopping at analyzing the game and explaining also my point of view about where Blizzard should go. About how the game should be able to improve, since I want it to and I won’t be satisfied of the revolution it already achieved.

In general I’ll follow my personal taste when I choose about what to write. I will concentrate in little details because I think they give a more concrete idea about the game. I also won’t speak about “the narration”. I won’t explain quests or character abilities if not from a design point of view. So you won’t see long essays about a class or something like that. I’m also an italian player, this is my english and I cannot write better than this. I love to discuss about design, so I will also focus about what devs choosed when building up the game, in particular comparing it with what I know, like other mmorpgs. It will help to understand what I mean and the scope of what I say.

This is also the 1 April, I usually don’t expect others to consider what I write as something useful, I expect them more to consider me a fool. And this due to my previous experiences, unfortunately :)

(posted too late for that…)

– Jump start –

I received the dvd on Monday. This because I’m part of the staff of the biggest italian mmorpg portal. We had to fight Blizzard to receive this only account. When you write just for your passion about these games you can see how big companies are able to piloting the whole thing. In this case or you are able to *create* the news or you are cut out completely. Companies will choose just support-sites of their game, filled with praises and so on. They are able to choose who can speak and they can use their power to decide who can live and who should disappear (since if you have no news you are cut out). This because they give directly the possibility to write news or not. This brings to patronage and sponsorship and it seems the whole situation of mmorpgs is relying completely on this. And it’s depressing. Still we were able to receive this account and we are trying to make it fit for a whole staff. I’m *really* looking forward to the beta pushes, hoping to be able to work in a more relaxed environment. Here in Italy there’s a total of 2-3 portals about mmorpgs and it’s quite amazing that we aren’t able to see more than just one account.

Anyway, usually I’m quite excited about trying or receiving new games I keep following from many months (years in this case). Instead I was relatively uninterested. I was waiting for it but I didn’t feel the usual “rush” to log in and check everything. I think this is due to a “burnout” effect about mmorpgs, something that is shared by the average and disappointed “mmorpg player”. I’m mostly deluded about what’s in the market. I’m sick of stupid design ideas that ruin completely a game or a total lack of ideas about creating something different. Mmorpgs *have* potential. They are just at 10% of their whole possibilities and it seems that they have already reached the ceiling. Tons of titles, all the same. Clones of clones, mistakes over mistakes. And all so obviously wrong and stupid (while marketers blame brands and find other stupid excuses, without being able to get that the success of a mmorpg is simply revolving about the *raw* value of it).

Game mechanics planned completely around a “grind” process, infinite treadmills revolving completely just on your character’s power, PvP (Player versus Player) systems obviously broken or simply not “fun”. And so on. More than the beginning of a new era it seems its end. No ideas, no inspiration, no ambitions if not to copy EverQuest (EQ) and exploit its “addicting” effect. We ended up with huge projects filled with just vapor to the point that you can build a huge community on something that *doesn’t even exist*, like bubbles of nothing. This is the situation, where who’s leading the market are the stupid marketers knowing nothing about how to build a game world. They just want a new EQ to jump on the bandwagon and make money, with absolutely no idea about *why* EQ had its success and why it’s now time to move on. And not sink in a swamp.

We reached a point where even the raw quality of the game doesn’t matter. Launches are collections of disasters and missing features. It doesn’t matter if a game is “good”. If it works it’s already a miracle…

Well, that’s it. Online worlds are the wet dream of some of us since we were kids but it’s depressing to see eye-stabbing mistakes over and over and over. Till the point that you expect nothing good. Money will keep driving things, and ideas will die behind, along with the “good games”.

This is about me receiving the game, not really hoping too much even about this WoW. I play DAoC (Dark Age of Camelot) , I have some fun and I strongly criticize it on many parts, still keeping my eyes on the market and babbling about my ideas on “underground” mmorpg forums that don’t want to appear here.

I didn’t expect WoW to be a revolution. We are really at a point where even a slight, concrete improvement is a miracle. So this is my approach to the game as I installed it.

– Specs –

This is my PC at the moment, just so you have an idea since I’ll speak a lot about performance:

Athlon XP 2400+@ 2.2Ghz real
Epox 8KHA+ (more than 2 years old)
Geforce 3 Ti500 with latest official driver (56.64)
Settings to quality, 2x anisotropic filtering, trilinear filtering forced and no anti-aliasing
My connection is a single line ISDN – From Italy

– Folders –

WoW occupies a bit more than 2Gb on the hard drive. On the root directory you have two zipped files. In one there’s the backbone of the interface (xml files and so on), in the other (huge) there’s the art of the same interface, mostly occupied by the various maps. The .exe client is quite big: 4.82Mb Then there are four directories. One called “Errors” where you find logs of your crashes, one called “WDB” with some tiny config files about the caching, another called “WTF” (wtf?) with account and characters infos and a last one called “Data” where you have the actual game. 1Gb of the contenent is held in huge .MPQ archive files named like “texture” “sound” “model” and even “patch000”. The other Gb left is inside a subdirectory named “World”.

(And there’s also a directory containing your screenshots)

– Transitions and Fluff –

Speaking of starting tools and thelike. The login form, loading screens, icon on desktop and so on, they are all ugly and umpolished (the shortcut icon is terrible). Whatever isn’t tied to the game itself is being left behind at this moment (it seems). They surely offer the bare minimum to log into the game. I will put here a detail more related to the gameplay: the logout process. I always hated so much to have to reboot or have to switch my internet connection and have to wait 20 or more seconds for the character to leave the world. Sometimes I also just had to kill the process so I was able to close quickly the game. Annoying. In WoW even the logout procedure is polished and well designed. You want to quit and your character will sit. A menu will appear with the seconds you need to wait, *but*, you can still press “Logout now” if you are in a hurry. The game doesn’t *force* you to have to wait there if you know your character is safe.

– Windowed mode –

As today I play every mmorpg in a window. And yes, I hate Final Fantasy XI because of this. I want to be able to switch quickly applications without the monitor switching resolution and so on. What I loved more is a mode I found in SWG (Star Wars: Galaxies): borderless window. It allows you to play in full screen, but below you can still show/hide the taskbar, so you can still play as in windowed mode. In WoW you need to fiddle with the shortcut and add -windowed to it to enable this mode. While playing in it you cannot select a “borderless mode” but you can still resize the window, so you can maximize it even if you’ll need to suffer the title bar on the top and the border of the windows taskbar at the bottom. Better than nothing.

What is *amazing* (just to begin with) is the performance of the game. I always had unsolvable problems, for example with DAoC and Eve-Online, whose clients don’t seem to allocate resources in a optimal way, so you end up to having unnatural stutters and low fps while playing in a window. In WoW this simply doesn’t exist. The client has an incredible performance and, at this time, I haven’t noticed differences between the full screen mode and the windowed one. From a technical point of view things are absolutely perfect, already at this phase of beta. In a few days I also experienced *no* crashes and the bugs I found in the game are just about a few glitches in the graphic. Glitches of the kind you can find in an incredible number in mmorpgs that have been out for *years*.

What I would like to see improved here is just the option to trigger that nice “borderless window” mode I liked so much in SWG. Then I will really be in heaven.

– Netcode and client performance –

Here I have a few “reservations”. In particular about the netcode. Looking at the bandwidth it doesn’t seem bad at all, more or less about the same level of DAoC. It generally requires nearly no upload and less than 1Kb in download while wandering around and fighting mobs (monsters, abbreviation of “mobile”, i think), but it also climbs too quickly when you are in an high-density populated area (populated by other players). I’m surely not able to foresee how it will behave in a stress situation like a relic raid in DAoC, with more than 100 players all fighting and moving actively.

A problem I noticed is about the latency. I don’t seem to be able to ping directly the server but I tried to perform various traceroutes to have an idea about the quality of my connection. In theory it should be around 150-250ms (ping). In the game you have an icon on the bottom of the interface, if you place your mouse pointer over it, it will show your latency. Well, while in the game I went (absolutely randomly) from a minimum of 350 to a max of 800 and above. But my connection to them, checked from outside the game, seems absolutely stable. My guess is that there is some server-related lag, which I hope they’ll be able to fix when the game will be released. I’ve played DAoC for more than two years, on the American servers and with a constant ping of 150. I play with no lag and I can even download things in the background without noticing major lag. So I expect WoW to offer at least the same quality.

Despite this kind of lag the game is still playable. It’s a form of constant lag, so you won’t get long hiccups or an unstable connection, it’s something slightly noticeable but that doesn’t improve, nor gets worst. As I said the game is still absolutely playable but you can notice some quirks. For example other players tend to “warp”. This happens because when the client receives new data it needs to update the position of other players, if the data lags you’ll have these players slightly in the wrong position, so you notice them warping forward or backward as they got updated. Something also common in DAoC. Considering the very high latency (I consider an average of 450-500ms as high latency) it isn’t a bad result, but if Blizzard can improve from here (both by reducing the latency and smooth the warping effect) I will be pleased.

Peoples on the forums have suggested to take a look at FFXI (Final Fantasy XI). It has both a wonderful netcode and nice features. The netcode (but it’s more the whole relationship between the netcode and the client-processing) is absolutely optimal since everyone plays on servers located in Japan and doesn’t complain about lag. It’s simply not noticeable while you play, no matter if you have cable or a crappy modem. You still can play and in a optimal condition.

The first nice feature is about an effect to smooth the “warp” of other players. While in WoW a character is suddenly resynched when the client receives new data, in FFXI it will simply slow down or accelerate. So the warp still happens in FFXI but it is “smoothed” graphically.

The other one is about something only partially related to the netcode: player collision. FFXI has a very nice form of player collision I would love to see in WoW. It’s not something strong but it has the nice side effect of players not walking constantly over each other and so it results in a more “physical” environment, without taking in the bad parts of this feature (like other players blocking your way and harassing). It’s an effect so “light” that it isn’t affected by lag, it’s really only a nice feature with extremely good side-effects, since it adds more depth and “concrete feel” to the game world.

About the client performance: I’m in awe.
While I play in the game I’m at 1152 x 864, in a maximized game window so I can multitask easily and quickly. All setting to max aside World LOD (level of detail) which I keep selected and helps a lot the performance with nearly no effect on the graphic quality (it adjusts the terrain detail on the distance, just by reducing the number of polygons of the ground, no difference in texture quality and so on).

As I said the performance while in the “windowed mode” is amazing, but the performance of the client *in general* is. So I simply love this client. I see the result on my hardware. I’m really absolutely amazed at how well this game runs. I won’t be able to define it in another way than chaining a series of praises.

The market is offering various games with a good amount of eye candy but with a craptacular performance. Well, it’s stupid. Being able to play in a smooth environment is a lot more important than squeezing in the client more and more nifty effects, lagging the whole thing as crazy and forcing you to play a slideshow. SWG is an example of this (but I could also rant a lot about the latest DAoC’s client). WoW is in a win/win position. Not only graphically it is like 10 years before the competition (you won’t believe that what you see is possible on your hardware, and this from someone who plays a large amount of games) but even the raw performance is ten times better. So, here, you have an incredible graphic quality at the same time of an incredible smooth performance. With absolutely *no tradeoffs*.

As I said I would prefer them to choose performance over graphic nifty features but, trust me, WoW offers *both*. I was expecting a very simple client from the technical point of view. Something old but nice. Well, this is wrong. You’ll see WoW doing some nifty things that you simply cannot believe. When you see the game on the screen of your computer you won’t consider it old, you’ll simply watch in awe (and love).

Again, this isn’t a tech demonstration on science-fiction hardware. This is how the game will look and move on *your* screen. My pc is exactly two years and four months old, when I bought it, it was an high-end system but I expect the average player to be more or less in the same or better condition when we’ll reach October. These aren’t features written on the box. It’s what you’ll have on screen and what you will play without the need to turn off anything bacause you lag. Forget about the performance of other mmorpgs.

WoW’s client takes around 200Mb right at the start, this is absolutley *low* (and good, very good). They already said they have some problems with memory leaks and this will make the memory climb higher and higher (reducing progressively the performance of the client) after those 200Mb at the start. I hope they’ll be able to solve this completely but it’s always a nasty issue. In DAoC it plagued miserably the first client and with ToA client there are still problems related to it. The point is to have a stable performance with the same fps (frame per second) you have right as you launch the game even after many hours of play. If that doesn’t happen it means there’s a memory leak.

In particular during the “flights” you’ll notice a whole lot of stutter. The stutter *isn’t* related to the engine, but it’s related to the constant load of the world (since you fly really at an *high speed*, It’s amazing). By resizing the game window I was able somewhat to reset the render and bypass the “trashing” effect and I’m sure Blizzard could work this out since it’s really a problem of managing the load/unload of the environment and not simply graphic performance (which not only is good but also quite stable).

– Character Creation –

PROs: The first pro is a design choice I *always* criticized. In games like DAoC or EQ you need to know the game quite well to be able to create the character. This because you need to know what’s better in race/class combination, but, in particular, you need to place points in your statistics. If you mess this phase now, you’ll have a gimped character. Or you know already how to build a good character because someone told you (or because you know already the game), or your character is going to be wasted when you’ll realize you made errors at min/maxing it (and min/maxing isn’t an roleplay choice, we are in a mmorpg). You’ll discover that you’ve wasted some points and there’s absolutely no way to gain them back. This is *stupid*. As a newbie I want to know how to make a good character. I don’t want to be able to mess it, since at the end those are always obligated choices. Well, in WoW you won’t have to choose anything aside the appearance. Yes, you choose the race and the class. But what you *need* is there. There’s a description you can read to have an idea of a race or a class, then you are done. No more mistakes. No ways to ruin your character permanently.

CONs: First, character customization. I’m not a big fan of it. I know that customization means more lag. Always. I also usually dislike most of the combinations. Even in SWG I felt forced to choose an aspect because all the rest felt “wrong”. In this case WoW is a step backwards on the competition, and one forward. In DAoC you can choose your “head”, all really similar and quite ugly, not ugly because they have no detail but mostly because they are just not good-looking. In WoW you have more combinations and, in particular, more variation. You won’t have to choose ten combinations all looking the same. Those combination allow you to change quite a bit about how your character looks. What is upsetting is that you have “power” just on the head. It’s like plugging different types of heads on the same body and this will feel silly in the game. Yes, you can vary the skin tone but it’s mostly a choice to make it fit better with your hair/beard color. What WoW is missing are a few choices about heights, at least. That’s something DAoC has. Just to have a bit more personalization aside the head.

Another con is about the interface. I like to have a random generator for names. I always have a block when having to choose a decent name and I can pass many minutes on it. Generators can help to give you an inspiration, here you have nothing, just the space waiting to be filled. Still about the interface there is another con, the control. Since you’ll finish to mess just with the head of your character you’ll want to have a closer look, or some sort of free mode. Instead all you can do is rotate horizontally the character with two arrows aside the name field. This offers you an horrible way to realize your choices about the look. I found myself trying to move the visual in various ways, just to realized that the arrows are all I have.

In general. The character creation is rather non-existent. You won’t have to choose anything important aside your name. No stats to choose, just your avatar (and as I said this is a good design choice). You won’t spend here more than a couple of minutes. I didn’t like the overall look of many of the races. I love how dwarves are but at the end it felt an obligated choice because I didn’t like the rest. Yes, humans are ok but being able to just change a face is limiting. Some of the races are terribly ugly and unappealing. You know, playing a “bad” character doesn’t mean you have to look terrible. But the look of some races is just toward the ugliness and not toward menace, dark charisma or whatever you could feel appealing in the “bad side”. Aside the dwarfs I liked the Taurens and the Gnomes. Those three are the most “graphically appealing” classes. They have soul and they look original even if some combinations aren’t so great (I don’t like the dwarf female model for example). The humans and dark elves are ok, nothing amazing. Instead the trolls, the undeads and orcs lean on the ugly side, they don’t feel menacing or scary. They feel more awkward and caricatural. I think you could have a problem spending years with one of those. At least if feels uneasy to me.

It’s still something so-so. Variations are good but not being able to choose an height is limitating, considering that it is possible in DAoC (“small, medium, tall” is already enough). It’s one of those details that could really make a difference since the “bodies” models are all the same. In a game with a good graphic quality this homogenization looks awkward. Then the controls are not ok. You change the face and you see a bunch of pixels changing color since you cannot zoom in and take a closer look, it’s quite upsetting. Then again some of the races feel unappealing or too ugly/awkward to push me to play them. I don’t know if this will created problems when it comes to deal with PvP. Population balance is a core issue and even the simple look of the characters could destroy this part.

– Controls –

Controls are very good. I feel like playing DAoC, with some nice touches and some more “polish” about various details. Basically you move with the same old “WASD”. I redefined a few keys so that with “Q” I cycle between the targets and with “E” I enter the combat, then you have the numbers where you can place styles and macros. The mouse is used for the inteface and to control other movements. With the wheel you zoom in and out the camera (till the first person mode, which I never use when actually playing), with the second mouse button pressed you activate the mouselook. You can look up and down and make your character turn quickly same way I have it set in DAoC, FPS style. With the first mouse button pressed, instead, you activate another form of mouselook. You are able to “drag” the camera freely around the character, without affecting it.

It’s *absolutely* useful. When you are fleeing from something you can keep running and use the first mouse button to quickly drag the camera to see if the thing is still after you. After you release the button the camera automatically reset itself to the standard position. So you basically have access to everything you need without moving your hands.

With the spacebar you jump. The nice touch is that while looking around you can see the head of your character following the direction where you are pointing to. In DAoC when you rotate the visual you see your character rotating on the place in a very unrealistic way. In WoW, as I said, the character follows with the head, when you move too much it also starts to move its body, but with a realistic animation and not just rotating on the place. And the whole game is *packed* with these nice touches.

You can also forget about the lack of “feeling” of a game like SWG. In SWG you cannot even jump, you can only hover phantom-like where the game allows you and everything feels so faked. You can see a rock but you cannot climb on it, you see a bench and you cannot climb on it and so on. You can go only where you are expected to go. In WoW you can do whatever you like, the world feels real. Jump around, climb rocks, jump on fallen trees, over tables and other objects and reaching points where you aren’t supposed to climb. It’s hell of fun and gives you a lot of freedom. You don’t feel simply *nailed* on the ground. Try for example to climb on a high flight of steps in SWG and then jump down in a second. You cannot. In WoW this is possible, you go wherever you’d like. Jumping and running like crazy. It seems something stupid but it’s another of those elements adding a lot to the game. It “feels” good. The tech guys at SWG probably never realized how much is important for a game to “feel good”.

Something I have noticed and I’d like to be improved is about a pair of features of the camera. The first seems like a bug. I said that with the mouse wheel you can zoom in and out, *but*, if the camera is blocked by a wall right behind you (for example) the mouse wheel will be disabled. Not only because it cannot zoom out (there’s the wall) but it cannot even zoom in. And this is silly. Instead the key bound to this zoom function still keeps working. The other glitch is again about the zoom. There’s no setting about the camera in the options and the standard effect is to have it move “smoothly”. This means that when you zoom in and out the camera will slowly move, as you want. But I would like a lot to be able to define how smooth this movement is, since I would like better to wipe completely the smooth, slow movement and have a quick one.

In general I’m definitely pleased about the controls. They are simply perfect and I cannot imagine a better way aside the two small details I’ve pointed out. Blizzard not only has taken the very best from what games have offered till now, but they also have improved. And controls are one of the most important part of a game. One of the (many) victories of this game.

P.S. The sitting animations are so nice, I also notice that if you idle for a bit your character will sit on the ground on its own. Another nifty touch. You can also sit on chairs around the world. This is another laugh at SWG with all those characters sitting on the void because the system is badly bugged. In WoW you click on the chair and the character will sit down properly. Looking good. I only noticed a few glitches by sitting on different chair types, but I hope they’ll fix even these graphical details.

(there are also issue about the controls while you are underwater, but I’ll explain this below)

– Interface (UI) –

I’m generally pleased here too. At the beginning I thought about complaining because I cannot, for example, move the windows around, but after a few hours of play I realized that the actual system is perfect and I wouldn’t change it.

In general you need to understand what are the important features in an UI (another thing that SWG didn’t get right, open your ears):
– Reaching quickly all you need in the game, showing as much infos you need to play
– Avoid to clutter the game window
– Bonus: look nice

WoW’s interface performs greatly with all three. You don’t need hours to learn the interface. It’s absolutely newbie friendly but it also shows what you need and more. It isn’t simple because the game is childish or not deep. It’s simple because there’s “good design” behind it. It’s one of the less intrusive interfaces you can see in the market of mmorpgs. Try to load Shadowbane, EQ or SWG to have your game window completely cluttered. And you cannot disable something because you have there something you need. In WoW the interface is minimal and still easy/fast to use and with everything you need there for you. It’s more a combo of keyboard/mouse controls along with the interface and the result is great.

Even little touches like the looting of a corpse are so well thought. When a monster dies it will show a sparkling effect, if you click on it your characher will kneel and check the corpse. This opens a window showing the loot. Then you can click on the objects to have them appear in your inventory (here an improvement could be adding a “loot everything” button). After you have looted the corpse the character will stand up again and the sparkling effect will vanish. The corpse, instead, will remain in the game for some time, before fading off. Simply lovely and perfect (some players have complained about this because they feel it too long, well, play in a game like DAoC and then you will see something about what you *can* complain, it’s already nearly impossible to select the loot).

In general you have the mini map on the top right to keep track of your position, if you need a better view you can press “M” and open the fullscreen map to check things better. On the left side you have your portrait with the two bars you need under your control (for me the health and “rage”). When you select something the information will appear aside your own portrait and you’ll have shown the name, the health and the level of your target. A lot more straightforward than DAoC where you can only have an approximation of the level of your target and this is also limited, since you can know only for targets more or less of the same level as you. It’s also possible to have a “mouseover” feature. It means that you don’t need to click on every target to see its infos, you can just move the pointer over it and in the lower right of the interface you’ll have shown the name and level. A good addition to improve this could be to move this mouseover info window, for example above the head of your target or in a location more accessible than the corner of your screen. There are also “on screen names” to provide you useful information. In DAoC, to know if a monster is aggressive or not, you need to select it and read a chat message. In WoW, since you can see exactly the level of a monster they used the on screen names to give information about the aggressiveness of the monster, at a glance. Ver, very good idea. Extremely useful. If you see a yellow name it means that the monster won’t touch you, if you see a red name, beware. Straight and simple. Then you have the bottom part of the inteface. You’ll have the exp bar always under your eyes and I know many consider this a huge issue. Well, it’s not. It’s not because, firstly, you simply don’t feel the pressure of levelling. This game has completely wiped away the idea of “grinding”, so don’t worry, you won’t care about the exp. Secondly, it is drawn with a dark color which simply isn’t noticeable. This is another of those nice touches I love so much. I’m sure they studied even the colors of the UI. I really don’t believe this is a case. Under the exp bar, on the left, you have your abilities/macro/functions bar. Same as in DAoC. Here you can see all your default actions and switch between different bars by pressing a shortcut (like shift+F1). By pressing the corresponding number you trigger the action. Even here WoW takes all the good parts about DAoC and improves. For example in DAoC they have implemented recently the possibility to have the abilities “shaded”, so that you can see them only when they are available. In WoW there are various improvements. The first is about this shading feature. In DAoC it works with the spells, but if you are out of mana or you don’t have enough endurance to perform a style, the icon will not be shaded properly. The shade effects works only for the timed abilities, without considering if you are mezzed or out of resources (for example). WoW takes into consideration all these elements. If you can see an ability not shaded it means you can perform it *now*. If you haven’t enough “rage” (more or less the endurance in DAoC) the style will appear as “not available”. The other nice touch is about a shiny effect around the icon when you have it queued. Actually there isn’t a queue mode in WoW (and this is good) but the combat is still delayed, so you’ll be able to see the icon shine till your character will actually perform it. As you can see the details and nifty features are nearly endless. As I said about the netcode you have also a red/green icon to have an idea of the quality of your connection. Another non-intrusive, useful feature. At a glance you’ll know if you are lagging or not and it’s an icon fitting nicely the interface. Then you have the bags and it’s everything you’ll always have on screen.

You can still open windows, as to see your equipment, to check your stats and skills, the quest log… and so on. I could spend another two hours writing down about all the nifty touches in the interface. About how responsive and filled with all you need it is, without cluttering the game window and without overflowing you with things you don’t understand. You don’t need to read any manual, nor to learn it in the game. It simply does what you expect. Always. You should only spend a few moments to define better the keys, to have everything where you want it.

To conclude this section I want to point out another victory of WoW. You don’t need to know the game before you launch it for the first time and you don’t need external sources to play, like lists and walkthrough for quests, guides about classes and so on. I’ve already said this about the character creation but it’s something you can find throughout the whole game. What you need is already there. The equipment shows all the infos you need to decide what to use, you don’t need external tools to calculate the best template or something complicate like that. If the game doesn’t offer you something it means you don’t need it. You have the maps, the details about your quests in the log, the stats of your items explaining clearly what you need to know. And so on. At this point you can be a complete newbie but you won’t have any problem at launching the game and learn from it. This is another new thing. You *don’t* need to go throughout tutorials like in SWG, or to screw a few characters before you understand how to play and where to place your spec points and so on (DAoC). Actually I played in it for two years, passing many hours in it and I still need to search guides and forums to know non trivial things about my character. Important things, not “fluff” (sometimes even Team Leaders don’t know. And this is foolish). In WoW you can forget about this. You don’t need to study anything before you launch the game for the first time and it’s not because the game lacks of depth. It’s because if you need an information the game provides it to you directly, without relying on external sources like third parties applications and websites.

Speaking about quests and about the same topic: You won’t need to open a website because you are blocked on a quest or something similar. The game is there for you. DAoC is the example of the opposite. Questing is a disaster. Frustrating as hell. Or you have a site with a guide behind the client window or you have to prepare at the worst play session you’ll have in some time. WoW does a nice work here. The (!) exclamation marks above NPCs (Non-Player characters) head, telling you they have a quest, is one of the best features they planned. When you need to go back to finish it the (!) will turn in a (?) question mark. And there are also silver exclamation marks telling you that the NPC will give you a quest, but not at this moment. Instead in DAoC questing is hell on earth. You don’t know anything and there’s nothing supporting this system aside a terribly weak chat mode with the NPCs. You can spend hours, real hours, trying to figure out with who the hell you need to talk. And when you aren’t doing this you are just idle, on the back of a horse because the best thing DAoC’s questing has to offer is to waste your time moving through the whole damn world. Just for the sake of it. Is it all? No. Questing in general is impossible. The text give you extremely imprecise locations of where you need to go. You end up having to explore and get lost. When you don’t get lost you are killed. And there’s no way (actually the fixed partially this in the last patch, after two years) to know what damn are you doing. You are doing the quest for the experience? Or for loot? Or because it triggers another quest after it? You could easily finish doing something *totally* useless for you. Since there’s no way to know the level of a quest you can get a level 15 quest when you are at 50. And so on. This makes the quest system in DAoC as something you *don’t* want to see. When you go on a quest it is because you studied a website, explaining all the features of the quest, walkthrough included. DAoC questing is equal to frustration, till the point you would kick the monitor and eat your keyboard.

This in WoW simply doesn’t happen. For a long list of reasons, summarized in one: In WoW they developed a whole system to support the questing. It isn’t just a collection of triggers and words as in DAoC. You know in WoW what you are doing and why. You don’t need to click thousand times on words to read a nearly infinite quest chatter. In WoW the text is written to be fun and entertaining, without the need to sit and read for a couple of hours something completely useless. Who wrote those quests knows that the players won’t like to read a whole book and so the text and information is kept balanced. There’s as much text written you need without boring the hell out of you. At the end you won’t loose anything of the dialogue because the quest log will show precise details.

Here there’s something I expected a bit better and it is about the whole mapping system. I don’t know why but I expected a lot of more integration with the map. The map itself is the only part of the game from which I was expecting a lot more. It’s absoultely useless and confused (still better than nothing, like DAoC). It could be used to place custom marks on it, to point to the location of the quests. If this “spoils” too much the fun it could still point to who gave the quest to you. But it’s not all. You could use it to mark it about vendors and so on. For now its only use is to have an idea of your direction and to retrive your corpse, aside that, the bigger map is more useful than the mini version, too much confused. The game world is absolutely huge, sometimes you’ll wish to have better tools to keep track of things.

Again about the quests: once you have completed a quest there’s no way to “remember it”. It could be useful to mantain a list of accomplished quests. At the end the exclamation marks above NPCs heads are enough, but an archive, just to remember you your history, could be a nice addition. Like a diary. It could be also nice to use it as a place where you are able to actually write down your notes and experiences and which will always be kept safe with your character inside the server.

Still about the interface, two parts I would like to see improved. The first is the onscreen names. I’ve seen that you can press “v” and remove them, or go to the options and uncheck the proper selection. The problem is that going each time to the options is frustrating and pressing “v” activates a “labelled” mode which I simply consider useless. I would suggest to have a quick way to remove completely everything. An idea could be to disable everything, labels and mouse pointer included when you press the key to hide the interface.

The other issue is about the LFG (looking for group) tool. Something I find so important in mmorpgs and it’s always left behind. I know there’s something similar as in DAoC but I’d like to suggest to add two “fields” in that window. The first request is to add a way to search for other *groups*, not only single players. So that the interface needs to show if a player searching is part of a group or not. The other request is about adding a custom field, nothing bigger than 15 words. So that you are able to write down *why* you are set LFG. I really, really hope Blizzard could implement these two options. They aren’t something hard technically and they could help *a whole lot* the game.

It’s everything? No. I deliberately left out the chat mode. Left out because it’s the worst part of the game. Painful. There’s no way to filter anything, nor modify the font size. You have loot, exp, chats, global trade, guild, server messages etc… all in the same window, and it shows just 8 lines. It’s harder than in FFXI to follow a discussion and there’s no way to extend it. You cannot even use the history, there’s no way to resend something. I hope they’ll spend some work here because a good mmorpg cannot exist without a good way to communicate. We need a way to resize the window, to filter and redirect the channels, to have an “history” of commands, to set the scale of the font and even to customize the various colors. Chat tabs could also be useful as another filter, so you can momentarily isolate what you need, without changing all the settings once again or having everything melt together.

It has a good part anyway. It’s absolutely not intrusive. Having on the left the chat and on the right the combat spam (which you can turn off if you want) is a good solution. I also noticed that they copied another nice feature of FFXI, after some time the lines will disappear, “Cleaning” your screen automatically. Press a key and everything will show up again. Great.

– Graphic –

The graphic is the first thing to hit you. It “happens” to you. You know James Joyce’s “epiphanies”? It’s the same. It happens and it feels like “magic”. This is a world that feels awesome. *Emotionally* awesome. Way before you can even start to analyze it with your reason. From the outside, depending on your background, you’ll feel worried about the content, the balance of PvP and so on. Once in, the game “seduces” you in a complete different way than any mmorpg to date. The first thing the game does to you is to transform you in a six-years-old. You can just sit and look around amazed. And when you are “in love” nothing will make you go back. It already “won” you.

I expect a “spoiled” effect. I don’t think I’m able to go back to the games I still like. It feels like a wet dream. This is right what you were dreaming to live as a kid and it has still the same emotional effect now, that I cannot anymore feel excited or surprised about a game. Well, it happened again.

It’s true that looking millions of screenshots won’t give you the right idea about the game. Not only because the graphic looks way, way better when you are in and it moves, but also because of the concept I tried to explain when I started writing all this, right at the beginning. It’s not only about “good graphic”, it’s about tons and tons of systems and features, all planned to match together till a point where you cannot simply look at something on its own. As a part. The game works as a “whole”. If you fragment it you’ll never be able to see its value. I expect many other software houses trying to copy this magic and I expect them to fail miserably.

The game is a “work of art”, as a masterpiece. The first consequence of this, is that it doesn’t depend on the tech level. This looks awesome now and will look awesome in 100 years. It’s like a painting, it has its own soul and its quality isn’t due to just a up-to-date graphic engine. This brings also to the opposite side. It’s so near to a form of art that some players could really not like it. WoW isn’t realistic but it’s filled with style. If you want to have a more precise idea about how the game “feels” I can explain it as a mix between Joe Madrueira’s style and Tim Burton’s “Nightmare before Christmas”. It’s not childish style, it’s absolutely inspired and epical. Nothing, not even a pixel, feels generic.

This is one feature that you cannot reproduce. You can discuss all you want about game systems and mechanics. It’s a territory where brainstorming can bring you a lot of interesting solutions if you know how to approach things, but the simple, raw, art isn’t about reason. I don’t know where Blizzard took these awesome artists and I hope they will never stop doing what they are. This is thousands times better than what you saw in previous Blizzard games. Do not try to consider WoW graphic like an evolution of Warcraft 3. It isn’t. I expected that too but once in the game you’ll see how much that’s far from the truth. Someone at Blizzard surely has sold his soul to accomplish all this.

I’ll repeat again my main point. This is a form of art, as a form of art you could even dislike its style (but cannot negate it’s value). Not only, it will keep its “feel” forever, because it’s not bound to just tech. The environments are lush and interesting. They have a soul and they aren’t simply packed with details just for the sake of it. The textures don’t look so good because they are simply big and so on.

Remember that this is for *everyone*. We aren’t talking of an awesome techdemo run at an incredible resolution with professional graphic cards. This isn’t SWG that runs at six frame per second with the whole world popping before your face as you move. This is a completely new experience.

One of the feelings it produced on me and I never experienced in another game to date (I began playing on the Commodore 64) is the “sense of wonder”. Compared to WoW other games feel like toys for kids. From the size of the trees and buildings, the amazing clip plane (both for the world and PCs/NPCs), the hills, the critters, the organic world design… Everything gives you a *new* feeling compared to what I played till now. It’s not that the ‘zone’ is bigger. It’s how things are put together that it makes you feel like in a world of *giants*. Other mmorpgs feels like sandboxes, simulations of worlds. You see they are faked and generally uninteresting. Perhaps only Morrowind could give you an idea about the “awe inspiring” sensation, even if with a completely different style. But if you played it you’ll understand me when I talk about all the elements taking part into shaping an incredible world and transforming a play session into an “experience”.

(about the clip plane, it’s a problem shared in every game to date, even WoW. In the long distance the “mist” simply won’t cover everything and you’ll still have some pop-up of poligons, in particular about highest mountains. It isn’t possible to apply a transparence to those models? Now when they fade into the mist they simply loose their original colors, but they are still “solid”. I don’t know if it’s technically possible but by giving them a progressive transparence you could cut off completely that ugly effect on the distance. I also notice that when characher go far away from you they don’t simply disappear but they fade off slowly. This is amazing but I think it doesn’t always happens. Sometime they simply disappear. I think it could be a good thing to apply this effect to everything, monsters, NPCs and players. It helps a lot to give a polished and smooth impression.)

WoW feels already huge and it’s completely a special case. I realized, by playing, that you cannot compare the scope of WoW with current mmorpgs on the market. I think there’s no competition. This is the first time I felt the “immersion” in a mmorpg. Even if you start to analyze it, piece by piece and explain how it’s just the same old ideas, just slightly tweaked. Well, it doesn’t matter. Really, it’s not something that you can explain since the game seems nothing new on the paper, but it feels as complete new dimension. I don’t know if it’s just me but the game seems to have a soul and this soul is more than just a list of features or the number of quests or the balance of the PvP.

The interiors of the buildings are even more unbelievable. Now it’s not only the raw graphic quality but it’s also something *impossible* technically. I really cannot believe that this is happening on my hardware. Within a game of this scope you can expect big areas but somewhat empty, feeling a bit flat. You know SWG? You need to walk for days to see the zone change its own mood. In WoW it happens exactly the opposite. Every tiny corner of the world has its personality. It feels absolutely organic. But this is even more true for the interiors. When you enter a building there’s no loading screen. You walk in as you walk around the world, then you won’t believe to your eyes. I always thought that you can only have a determined level of detail if you want to load dynamically everything. This is, for example, the difference between EQ and SWG. EQ is built around “zones”. When you change a zone, the builders are able to shape the new one in a completely different way. In SWG this doesn’t happen because they load dynamically everything. From a side you have a cohesive world, from the other you can add only so much detail and personalization. You cannot look in a direction, then turn 180 degree to see a whole different world. In WoW this happens. When you walk inside a building you don’t see a loading screen. But you feel like in a new game. I found myself trying to look outside a door just to check if the damn world is still there. It is. Jaw dropping again. I never thought this was possible.

It’s all? No. Not only you won’t believe how amazing the interiors are, but you’ll see the impossible over the impossible. While inside a building your frame per second will *go up*. Where you would expect your client to *die miserably* due to the insane amount of little details (Go inside Ironforge and you will be thrown right inside Moria of the first “Lord of the Rings” movie, and I’m not joking, it’s so beautiful that you’ll feel like crying), it will happen the exact opposite and it can only be a miracle. It’s not just a few fps more, they really go up *by far*.


The light in the game environment is another of those elements so important, even if it sounds silly from the outside. I’m one of those who don’t really like the new fancy effects of the new shaders technologies. I think effects, like the one on the water, just lag the engine a whole lot and add nothing from an artistic point of view. If you look at EQ2 graphic you have the perfect example of what i *don’t* consider good art. It’s a wax museum, the world feels so cold and flat, no matter how much technology you squeeze in there. It’s like watching the math involved in the process than a “warm” form of art. A similar thing could be said about SWG, and not only for its graphic. WoW is different, the tech is at the service of the art. This isn’t an idea, it’s the impression I got while playing. I still think that Warcraft 3’s water is the best I’ve ever seen in a game, with absolutely no use of shaders, just inspired art. The water in WoW isn’t better that that but it fits the gameworld nicely, in particular considering how it reflects the light. But I’m saying all these things because I want to explain that more and more tech in games doesn’t seem to add anything about the quality. At the end what matters is still how many polygons the engine will move smoothly and how big the textures are. That, plus the graphic talent, which you *cannot* learn. Still, in WoW, there’s something absolutely *amazing*. Something that is a shader effect but also something that adds a whole lot to the gameworld.

The light “shines” on the terrain. I already saw light effects on weapons and metallic structures, for example in DAoC. But in WoW you see the sun enlighten the ground and this light is *completely* dynamic. The rock you see as brown gains a warm and shiny brass color when the light is reflecting on it, the snow and ice gain a shiny bright white effect, so near to the one you can see in the reality. This effect is built in the engine and in the graphic, you’ll see it *everywhere*. Applied perfectly to have the proper effect you can expect from that surface. If I was seeing it on a tech demo I would have said that it’s one of those things so nice but also too laggy and impossible to have on an actual game. But I’m watching all that on my Geforce 3. The same card which presents a whole lot of performance problems with SWG or even DAoC ToA. WoW client not only looks millions and millions of times better, but it also performs better. It’s a win/win situation with absolutely *no* tradeoffs.

This simple effect not only looks helluva good and fitting, but it also improves actively the game world, by making it a lot more lively, colorful… true. Despite its unrealistic style. Till now we have seen worlds that are simply motionless, they feel like big containers where the players move. In WoW the setting and the gameworld have an active role in the game itself. They aren’t simply the background, they are part of something more concrete, “coordinate” with the rest. When you play the game you live in it and with the same setting. It’s the opposite concept of “alienating”. And this is one of the core elements of the whole game. While other mmorgs tend to alienate and frustrate the casual player, WoW makes you involved, immersed in a dream. Where you don’t care about parting “the rules”. Like considering the graphic aside the gameplay. Everything here exists as a “whole”.

This isn’t even everything about how the “light” is amazing in this game. I haven’t seen it during the night (due to the realistic cycles) but during the day it’s amazing. In Elwynn Forest there’s always a warm orange-ish light that makes all the colors so beautiful to see. There’s so much work about this aspect, it feels like a very good movie, where’s nothing is there for a case. The light here really adds so much, by shaping the world along with the raw models and textures.

Another element of the graphic but which is really poor, is what’s in the world above the ground level. The sky, from the clouds, to the colors, the sun, moon and stars, is surely ugly and flat. Luckily you simply don’t notice this, but it’s obvious that they didn’t put much work on it. I also wonder about the weather effects since I haven’t seen anything. They are even in? I haven’t heard of them and I just had good weather all the time.

– Sound and music –

Sound and music are aspects I never consider. After all if the game is unfun or broken you simply won’t care about the music or the sound effects. They are part of the “fluff”, they don’t make or broke a game. In this case you’ll be astonished again. The music is so well composed that you’ll feel in a movie and not only because it’s of an absurd quality but it also fits amazingly the game world, same for the sound effects (the only problem I noticed are underwater, the sound has a nice effect but it comes out louder and a bit distorted).

It’s, once again, something that takes a role into shaping the game world in a similar way I explained about the lighting system. As I said, other mmorpgs never cared about the world itself, they always considered it like a graphic feature. Background. Here *the world* is your gameplay and every single part of the game, from the interface, the graphic, till the sound and music, everything helps shaping something wonderful, a lot far away from the idea of a simple game. It’s about an “experience”. Completely fulfilling and carefully tuned in every aspect.

As the light takes a role into shaping the colors and by shaping the colors even the forms, and the general mood of a zone, same for the music. Different musics bound to locations which help a lot by shaping the epic feel of zone, or the tranquility of a lake, or the sense of wonder of something amazing. This isn’t a “game music”. This throws you in the middle of an awesome fantasy world. And you cannot compare it with anything already existent.

There are also some voice samples used, for example, when you try to trigger an ability but you don’t have enough “rage” (more or less the endurance you have in DAoC, used to perform the styles). They aren’t bad but they aren’t also so great. I don’t think they add a lot even if they could be fun. It’s actually strange to hear your character talk.

I haven’t written much in this paragraph but it’s not because it’s something minor. This is a game where you won’t turn off the sound, nor you’ll think about the sound as “nice fluff”. It isn’t. It’s a solid part of the game, absolutely indispensable. You can “see” the music and the sound into the game, like you see a tree or an house.

– Gameplay –

This is an open field. I would need another few days to write a detailed report about this part. It’s obviously the main area of the game but I won’t dedicate to it much time. The first reason is because there are millions of review out there focusing on the details like classes, balance and the combat system. I’ll try just to point out what it felt good and *new*. Even here I think that the value of WoW comes as a “whole”, so I think it’s not a good thing to part the simple gameplay from the controls, the graphic, the music and so on. The other reason why I won’t focus on it is because I simply had not enough time to see the whole scope of the game. So it’s stupid for me to pretend to have seen everything.

Let’s begin with something of a concrete value:
Levelling is the *consequence* of your play session, not its cause. When you log off you aren’t happy because you gained a bit of experience or Realm Points. You just had a lot of fun. It could be at level 1 or 40, it’s still the same fun. You don’t feel like doing “this and that” so you are able to reach a point where the fun is “supposed to be”. Without never reaching it.

This game is about the *fun*. And the fun is *now*. A second after you log in, till the second before you log out.

The entire game basically has the soul that all other mmorpg never achieved. It removes completely the frustration and the grind. You play just in awe. The game feels comfortable and not cold, huge and empty like, say, SWG. From this point of view, WoW feels a lot more like a single player rpg than the common mmorpg. Perhaps it could be unbalanced and all the rest but the game *feels right*. I really am one of those logging in to just study a game, to see what’s good, bad and so on. To the point that I pass more time on the forums discussing than in the game playing. In WoW I forgot this. Same as you forget about the need to level. You do stuff that comes to you, completely random and just by following the inspiration of a moment. You go on a quest and you could finish doing something completely different at the other side of the world (jaw dropping when you first go around on the back of a gryphon, you’ll never get the scope of this even by watching an high-res video). When I level I’m actually sad, like feeling going too fast because there’s still so much to see. You find around millions and millions of things to buy, the “drops” flock at you and so on.

I actually love that the game is so playable. When people say that levelling is fast, isn’t just about mobs giving out more experience. It’s about fighting easily, you gain a good amount of exp by killing easily mobs a few levels higher than you (perhaps by having fights with more mobs all at once, and it feels so *great*), having fun with your styles and buffs (think about a mix of FFXI and DAoC, just a bit more fast paced and lively). You can chain-kill various mobs in just a few seconds and it’s rare that you have to sit and wait. In general you play the game, from the first minute to the last. Forget about logging in to wait for a decent group, to be completely blocked even for more than an hour because your group misses a key-class like an healer or because you cannot find enough peoples to group with. You never wait here, you never feel like alt-tabbing. The game simply doesn’t require you to do something else aside playing and *having fun*. It is right there waiting for your constant actions as in a single player rpg. At this moment I haven’t found a single moment where I had to wait for something. This game doesn’t tell you where you have to be and what you have to do. It doesn’t oblige you to enter risky fights because it’s the only way to gain your tiny, stupid experience (just to die and loose an hour of *work*). It doesn’t “laugh” at you because it relies completely on grind/risk based gameplay and here I think there’s another revolution.

With current mmorpgs you have the whole matter about risk/reward. It means that if you want to accomplish something, even stupid, you need to risk something. This brings to catasses to rule the game with powerful and organized guilds, while the casual player, with his crappy equipment due to the grind with low level mobs, just can keep getting frustrated because he sees around himself those guilds packed with buffbots and special equipment and succeeding at taking advantage of a particular system (like making experience faster, sometimes by “powelevelling”). So you basically have to die, die and die, while other organized players have the possibility to reach all the nifty features. They can go right into the risk/reward matter. They have the tools to cheat the game (like buffbots) and have an advantage over you.

So the whole risk/reward game is based on the frustration. If something is easy it *must* be tweaked. If you are killing a monster easily they’ll put a way so that, after a bit, you’ll die. Like a periodical patrol of an higher level mob. Devs (stupid devs) have based completely the game on the concept of “pissing you off”. In any way possible. They think that by making things frustrating the game will give you more satisfaction when you’ll finally accomplish something. And this is the *soul of the stupidity*. It’s one of the biggest plagues of the mmorpg genre.

Risk/reward is an optimal mechanic applied in some situations, but mmorpg designers simply didn’t get it right. Risk/reward is good when you die (you are defeated) because you did an error. So you can *learn* from your actions and improve. In a mmorpg, usually, you die just because you are forced to play on the borderline. When you have just a few styles to choose it’s not that the game asks you some kind of ability. You sit there and hope it will go well. If it doesn’t, you *cannot learn a damn*, because you cannot change what you do. This means that you can just lower your aim, till you finish to kill critters that give you an amount of stupid exp making you realize that if you keep killing those you’ll need like two weeks of real gameplay to pass a level. And here some smart players just cancel their account and laugh at who thought a stupid system like that. Then tell me: How damn can you blame peoples selling and buying accounts on E-Bay when the game is that bad?

When you want to spend real money to jump a part of a game, it’s *more than obvious* that the game is *broken*. This, fortunately, doesn’t happen in WoW. You don’t care about buying a character as you don’t care about buying Final Fantasy for the PSX2 and buy also a memory card from your friend for the save state before the final boss. You *don’t* want the game spoiled for you. You *don’t* want to have the character of someone else. The game is fun, if you want to skip it, it means it’s broken (or that you are stupid). For this reason I don’t expect this to happen in WoW.

The same concept, about a game that lets you play itself, allow you to have fun without feeling like a stupid, frustrating and alienating work, is repeated throughout the whole game. You loot a lot of meat and stuff from corpses that allow you to heal during the downtime. You are packed with equipment. It’s great having to check constantly your equipment, choosing better looking parts. There are tons and tons of different things to wear, and many slots. All these things have often personalized textures and models. You *cannot* see necklaces, rings or cloaks but you *can* see belts and bracers, for example. The equipment is also layered so you can wear bracers and over them the gauntles. Or a shirt and over it an armor and so on.

But even here, the game is terribly generous at giving you stuff to manage and it’s all there available to you, as the quests. You don’t need a zerg and a few hours to go questing or find loot.

Lately I levelled a Paladin on DAoC from 20 to 36 and I have just 2-3 pieces of equipment, and this by playing for hours and hours on the same spot, killing the same monster (and no, it’s not my choice, or I go there and do that or I don’t play). This simply doesn’t happen in WoW. You walk around just to see what’s behind an hill and you kill wandering mobs. The whole place feels very lively, packed everywhere with monsters and critters. Every little corner of the world seems to contain a “microcosm” but there’s not the concept of a “spot” where you have to go and stay. It feels more like a promenade (some on the forums are complaining about this “too much” walk, which I consider absolutely compelling).

The death penalty is so minimal that it doesn’t exist, in particular when the exp isn’t your focus. Your main worry is to have to respawn at the city when you are far away exploring.

Oh, and you can also go naked and punch at the monsters. I loved this, there are unarmed skills and the combat animations are definitely fun, you see even the blood spurting around. :)

(About the “death-mode”, two things I didn’t like: the first is the “cemetery mood” you have everywhere. The game world is really insanely packed with corpses and I wonder what could happen in a filled server with 3000+ players. Sometimes the graphic lag is due more to this insane amount of dead bodies than the environment itself. I think Blizzard should do something to improve this. Or technically -by reducing the range at what you see the corpses, for example- or with some sort of tweaks to the death system. I really cannot understand why there are two times dead bodies than active players. The other thing I didn’t like is about the model and behaviour when you are a ghost. I know that for example you cannot slide over the water because they haven’t implemented the flight but having just your model turned semi-transparent with a blue-ish glowie isn’t enough. There’s should be a proper behaviour and a proper model, even the environment should look different, like filtered so that the colors disappear, playing in a seducing black and white. But you need really to give more depth even to side-aspect like this one.)

(Now that I think about it, even the whole underwater experience needs work. Not only Blizzard needs to develop a better filter, like I said in the “sound section”, but there are also major glitches with the controls. Right now the charachter swim toward where the camera is pointing. This is *bad*. Bad because in a top-down view it’s obvious that you aren’t able to swim horizontally. You’ll just finish to sink. The camera needs to be detached from the swim direction. when moving forward you should just swim horizontally and there should be keys to move up and down. Generally the whole thing feels even better than in DAoC. The animations are good and I noticed that you move really slow, for example while in combat. It’s amazing to see. But Blizzard definitely needs to rework the controls)

About the “boring” part I don’t know. It really depends on how much Blizzard will work from there. The content cannot be, obviously, infinite (without a good PvP with the scope of DAoC). But with DAoC or SWG i was bored and frustrate right while levelling my first character (and I love DAoC).

I think that a long beta phase with no NDA is a great sign from Blizzard and a good thing for many reasons. One of these is that it doesn’t matter how much information you receive from the outside, the game should remain fun. It’s not a fun coming from an unknown quest, after all you could just receive the same old “bring me six pelts”. But even these trivial quests are fun. Fun because you have to do them in a game where every single system is neat. The combat system is fast paced and lively, improving in many ways from DAoC, the world is amazing and you live it a lot more as an experience than as a ‘game’. It’s wonderful as a whole.

I don’t think you can spoil the fun by reading all these reports.

This, instead, feels mainly as a single-player rpg. To the point that you *don’t* want to level because you still need to do so many quests. It’s a relaxed environment that doesn’t pivot on the frustration or the strict competition between players to demonstrate who’s more powerful. It’s an “experience”, where everyone shares the same dream, without damaging each other.

– 24h Time Cycle –

Here it’s a big surprise to me. I really couldn’t consider the 24h real cycles of day and night as something positive but it is. There are two reason about this. The first could be tied to the graphic engine. I’ve seen that there’s a lot of work on the lighting effect. I’m not sure if this happens statically or dynamically. For example the terrain reflecting the sun during the day could reflect the moonlight during the night, so it could be just the same effect with just different data input. But if it’s something dynamic there could be performance problems due to the engine. In FFXI you have a few different sets of lighting but they are triggered suddenly, with no smooth transitions. In WoW you don’t notice transitions at all, probably because the time is so relaxed (as in real life) that you cannot perceive these changes. My guess is that by having shorter light and day cycles you could also have a hit on the performance due to a continuous update to the environment, but I could be wrong.

There’s also another reason, more concrete, that makes this choice not a bad choice. You play relaxed. This is another of those things that from the outside seems completely different but when you are in and playing has a different result which seemed impossible in theory. You have all the time you need to get used to the setting. It means that the intensity of the light or the general “mood” of the colors are stable. Your eyes get used to that and you start to focus on the game, forgetting the time and hour. In games like DAoC the night/day cycle happens quite quickly, the result is a lot less relaxing. You are there and immersed in the light of the day but a bit later you need to get used again to the night and then again to the day. You are happy it’s the night because you know it won’t last long but at the end this leaves you always upset, everything is there to change quickly and more or less you always wish to have a different condition. In WoW this doesn’t happen. Or better: you don’t notice it. It really feels like a new experience because it’s like going on a promenade on the morning. You aren’t worried about the night surprising you, you are simply happy to see the environment with *that* particular light. You don’t feel the compelling desire to wait the night or the day. It doesn’t matter. You simply love what you have at the moment because it’s lovely, it feels good and makes you relaxed.

That said I would still suggest a “shifted” solution. I don’t know exactly how it works now but let’s make an example of how it should be ideally:
On Tuesday, at 14:00 of the real world the WoW time is at 20:00.
The next Tuesday at 14:00 you need a change in WoW, so that it could gain an hour each day and the next Tuesday you’ll finish at 3:00, deep in the night.
This will help the peoples that are able to play only at the same hour. I think you can still get all the benefits of the current system and still offer the experience of night and day to who isn’t able to choose when to play.

– Consideration about “Blizzard making games” –

Following what I wrote about the night/day cycle. It’s known that Blizzard isn’t about “revolutionizing”. They don’t create the universe from scratch. They look around see what is good and design their games so they can improve what’s already expressed, concentrating on the parts that are fun and so on. So you never expect that much innovation from a title, you expect (in this case) the same mmorpg in a better flavor, hopefully with stupid design (like the grind based treadmill) cut off. And this is actually WoW but the choice about the night and day cycle “hints” a lot.

If you follow the idea of “improved design with nothing revolutionary” you see as the choice of a 24h night/day cycle is quite absurd and daring. It’s not something that you can think about and realize it’s an improvement. It’s also something that has been largely criticized. If Blizzard really has a conservative approach in making games they would never have followed this path. There’s no game proposing realistic time cyles and it’s not what you would expect from a design based on “improving the formula”.

What I suggest is that it’s an hint about something completely new. Something completely missing in other mmorpgs on the market (or near to be released). Perhaps only FFXI has tried to go, timidly, in this direction: “building a world”. I think this is the main strenght of WoW. I also think that analysts all around the world will never succeeded at understanding what will make the game great and successful. I can already imagine how many clones it will produce, how many companies will try to copy it to jump on the bandwagon. Mmorpg will become again a green pasture and marketers will try every way possible to take advantage of Blizzard success. And they will fail.

I think they will fail because WoW seems to have its strenght on an emotional approach that comes a lot before you can even start to think and analyze the value of the game. You simply don’t care about its value, about what’s good or bad with it. You are “seduced” way before. The emotional approach means there’s something like “magic” that you cannot suddenly explain, but it works before your reason and, once triggered, you feel the immersion of being in a mmorpg for the first time. Not because it’s your first mmorpg, but because it’s the first time that a game *world* tries to seduce you. In WoW the strenght is to be part of something bigger than you, it’s the “soul” of the concept of mmorpgs and it’s where all the others have failed.

This is not about the quantity of quests, the list of features on the box or the balance of the PvP system. You simply don’t consider that at the start, because the game has already seduced you. You want to be there and have fun, spending your hours in something you always dreamt about. It’s about the immersion that all the other mmorpgs have not considered, they all feel faked, they all feel like what they are: computer games that after a bit become boring. In particular: where all the fun comes from grinding the power of your character over and over. This doesn’t happen in WoW. And this is *new*. Absolutely new.

I’ve pointed about the 24h cycle because it hints what I’m trying to explain. Blizzard has focused in creating a world and this is the first priority about the design choices. Something that could be silly from a practical point of view (I mean considering the general mmorpg environment), but it’s not in WoW because it’s here where Blizzard is pushing the genre toward something new. While you can have a standard (but still evolving) process about basic mechanics and purposes, this happens in between a way to build the game completely new. From the outside this cannot be perceived. If you look directly at the features you cannot understand “what’s new”. It seems more of the same: some polished well-known ideas, nice graphic and so on. Instead WoW “feels” completely different and *is* completely different. You cannot see its value and “magic” because you aren’t able to compare it with something you know already. You are a DAoC player and all you can think is about how Blizzard will make stealth classes or how they will balance the PvP. You are an EQ player and all you can think is how much high level content is available, how many shinies and so on. When you’ll enter WoW you’ll enter a new dimension.

All those “problems” will still be absolutely important but they will come “later” because the game will seduce you way before.

– WoW as a mmorpg: Endgame –

Subtitle: A fast paced levelling means that you’ll reach faster a point where you’ll ask yourself: “And now?”

This is a core issue. This is what most players will be worried about. This is also what is important over the years: the endgame. It’s obvious that what Blizzard is offering now is a partial game. Something that, once the game will launch, will be devoured in a month or so. We have not all the classes and half the races. Level capped to 30 with the game going up till 60. And no PvP. This means that what we can see and comment is just about the “newbie experience” and about general systems which will continue even on the levels above (questing, combat, classes and so on). And we also know that a mmorpg has its value to be judged along the years. Mmorpgs’ quality comes from how much they are able to grow, so that they won’t feel old or surpassed. I hate with a passion when producers try to push for follow ups like EQ2 and AC2. I’m happy when they fail miserably. The concept of a mmorpg comes from building a world, with the best technology you have. This world isn’t something growing old, same as Tolkien stories are nowhere to feel surpassed or not wonderful to read. Mmorpgs should use the possibility to be developed and expanded. If a software house is able to push a follow up, it’s also able to improve what they have already. Even revolutionizing it, if they want. A game world like Ultima Online isn’t going toward a decline becuase it’s old and so it isn’t able to compete. They simply let it die miserably. Stopping to develop it and just exploiting the users till they’ll keep paying. But they are slowly killing the world itself (and they need to feed that bad idea of Ulima X: Odissey).

Mmorpgs in general should be left at their destiny. They are worlds before games and worlds don’t need to be rebuilt to be better. In this case I’m babbling about what WoW is offering now and about what will happen in a few years. Surely they’ll keep expanding it but I really hope this will be something that will involve the whole game and not a patchwork like, for example, EQ. Where new zones look cool and with nice features and the old ones are basically the same with nicer textures. I hope that WoW will keep offering a quality game for a long, long time and this will come only if the keep developing it as a “whole”. Not forgetting about details and not simply adding just new pieces without keeping the rest up to date. DAoC is an example about how all this can be done and it feels a lot less as a patchwork than EQ. The only problem with it is that they haven’t a daring design and the game basically remained the same from the basic “systems” point of view. They tried addressing problems like balance, in particular when it comes to the PvP, but their approach has been way too much conservative. The game presents many of the problems shared within the genre and aside very well planned ideas (like an RvR based PvP), they haven’t done much to improve from there. More like trying to hold what they got rather than keep innovating.

So, this is about the very long term but the game needs to be considered now. It’s about the value of the game and as I said right at the beginning of this part: we still (as betatesters) don’t know about it. Most of mmorpg players coming from EQ will say that what matters in a game is how much content the game has to offer. Most of the players coming from DAoC (here I am) will say that what matters is an involving PvP system that should be balanced and planned with precise goals and simply *cannot* be an afterthought. That’s it. Till now mmorpgs have been divided between PvP and PvE. Both as two different games living together as in DAoC. But both being the two possible “endgame”. The “goal” of the game, its lasting appeal.

The content is something that will wear off, quickly. That’s why EQ devs just keep adding more stuff, just for the sake of it. The more content you pour in, the more the players will stick to the game. But this brings also many, many considerations. Some good and some bad (like transforming a game in a simple treadmill for “power”).

But this isn’t the point. The important part is how much WoW will offer at realease, content-wise. This will obviously involve the treadmill process but I really hope WoW won’t loose its soul here. The soul about *removing the grind* from the treadmill. The soul about making the game fun for *everyone* and not boring, frustrating and upsetting. They (Blizzard) demonstrated to be able to deliver this on the lower levels by making the game feel a lot more a single-player rpg than an empty and uninspired level grind, I hope they can keep going on the exact same direction.

The PvP is a whole different matter. The first core point about it is that you cannot have a good combat system for PvP if you need it to co-exist with PvE. DAoC is an example of this. Not only they have different needs when it comes to balancing, but they also rely on different design choices. Just an example: crowd control abilities are fun and interesting in PvE but they are an absolutely crappy idea on PvP. The idea that you are blocked and aren’t able to play is wrong. So you can keep somewhat balancing both the needs but PvP will always have different and *opposite* needs from PvE. That brings to player complaining about PvP as an afterthought even before they can put the hands on it.

PvP is like a complete new game on its own, if it’s just “fluff” added to a PvE-only based game, players searching for it will complain. A lot. From my point of view (which I repeat while discussing DAoC), PvP relies about three parts, tied together: Fairness of combat – diversity of gameplay – fun.

The last is the easiest to understand because it’s a consequence. Just to make it clear: fun in PvP means that the combat system is fun to play, fast paced and still deep, without being frustrating. All the rest comes as a result of the previous two points: Fairness of Combat and Diversity of the gameplay.

The first, in DAoC, is affected by various and well-known issues, never addressed succesfully: buffbots, zergs, cheats and balance.
All those issues are about a “fair combat”. Buffbot-assisted players have advantages over the casual players. Same as cheats and unbalance between the classes.

To explain:
First person shooters are relatively fun to play because the environment is fair. You join and you have the exact same set of possibilities to win over the other players. Both because there’s no treadmill (same set of skills) and because you join a team fighting another team. More or less the same number of players against each other.

Mmorpgs are the opposite. They are treadmills both about levels/skills and equipment. They require you to “work” so you are able to compete. So you need to grind and min/max the game. And this isn’t all. In DAoC there’s also the “zerg” problem. You go out with a full group of 8, for example, but from there you can meet another full group of 8, a smaller group or even 100 enemies packed together. This generally brings to frustration since the combat is generally unfair due to all these elements (and here you can also add underpopulated realms).

The diversity of gameplay, instead, is about the scope of the PvP. *Why* you are doing it. What you gain and what you loose. This is something that could receive a huge improvement. Many games offer just a flat environment where you wander for a bit of PvP (think about Emain in DAoC). After a bit, and packed with the other issues, this begins to grow boring. Till the point that PvP becomes another treadmill about RPs, for example. This is about the diversity of gameplay and hopefully will be improved in DAoC with the upcoming expansion.

The huge improvement can be about the environment. Till now mmorpgs have been just a treadmill of power. Why? Becuase it’s *hard* to make the world change with your actions. It’s a lot easier to change just yourself, as a character. That’s why you go kill a dragon, for example. Because the dragon gives you loot, and the loot gives you more power.
I think that the genre can grow from here. It’s time, in particular when it comes to PvP, that the “world” takes part in your game. So that you won’t do stuff just for yourself (like loot or RPs to get new abilities) but to do stuff for the world. To conquer something, to take part in a battle that isn’t only faked.

The fake idea is the whole point. Battles without an aim are worthless in a game, you’ll finish to care just about yourself if the world isn’t affected in some way. It makes you behaving selfish while the strenght of a game should be in making you work (and play) in something greater. Something that could involve you *a lot* more than your sole power. So the diversity of gameplay is both about the soul and the scope of the PvP (the answer to the question: why I’m doing this?) and about the situations you can play in. Open battlefield war between two large armies, the defence of a keep or a bridge, small and quick struggles and so on…

So there are these three points which arise all the well known issues about PvP games. What WoW can do about all these things? A lot. I’ve read a few previews about what’s the idea about PvP. There should be battlegrounds built as missions, with different aims, and frontier zones with open PvP between horde and alliance where you can go also to get better loot and high-end PvE.

Here WoW can do a lot. Having battleground built as missions address directly my second point: diversity of gameplay. You can give the possibility to have a lot of fun playing and fighting in different “theme parks”. This will help a lot if you plan to spend just some time in the game and you don’t want to wait and wait. The only negative side is that, aside the fun, this has nothing to offer. It’s just a theme park where you simulate a war. Nothing happens in the end. After you played over and over around the various possibilities this will grow old.

Something that you can improve with battlegrounds is another issue: fairness of combat. By creating instanced versions of a battleground you could transform the game like Warcraft 3. You join a queue and once all the positions are filled the fun starts. This allow to have an environment where you know how many enemies you’ll find at the other side, so the combat is “fair” and you have the same possibilities to win. By making a battleground open for everyone you’ll hit against a common wall: population unbalance. I assure that without solving it the game will be very frustrating and, at the end, broken.

So, the battlegrounds could help delivering “fun” quickly. Addressing most of the biggest problems like “zergs” and various kind of situations and way of play. The other side of what has been announced is about the PvP on the actual zones of the game. Since these aren’t instanced you’ll face the same problems as in DAoC but you could solve and improve the aspect missing from battlegrounds: a war that matters. Here you need to develop systems so that the war isn’t just about a soulless fight. You need to provide reasons and an environment reacting to your actions. Something like a conquest system, something more involving and deep than just more loot or abilities. In general: something different from a faked battle. (in DAoC you have Darkness Falls, the keeps and the relics. This aspect needs to be pushed further, so it will really become the *purpose* of the game and not something to fiddle with once a month. In DAoC 90% of the PvP is just about aimless runs throughout Emain, unfortunately).

That’s about it. The endgame isn’t something to understimate. I pointed out just a few of the most important and general issues. Many other players will focus on the raw balance of the classes. I think it is important but from my point of view it’s only one of the elements making PvP fun and interesting. A part of the game which I really hope Blizzard will develop, squeezing from it all the good things they were able to squeeze from the PvE.

P.S. – Consider this also as a *warning*. All these nice reviews from betatesters (mine included) are still about a tiny part of the game. The final value will depend a lot on how Blizzard will develop the whole game.

P.P.S. – Have you ever thought about using the PvP as an alternative way to avoid the PvE and level your character from level 1 to 60 wityhout killing a monster?

– Communication –

This is something really important and another of the “flaws” I already expect from Blizzard (along with the PvP system). The communication between players and devs is absolutely important and it’s another of those aspects always crumbling when it comes to mmorpgs. In general, game companies work as in an ivory tower and the players rant in a random forum, till the point of producing big riots and general fights. It seems like a constant war between what the users are asking and what the devs are able to deliver. It’s something about promises and broken dreams. The truth is that the ivory tower is constantly under siege and devs don’t want to go out. The communication is broken right in the middle.

When it comes to this issue I always explain that the communication doesn’t mean to have a way to receive bug reports and suggestions (what WoW has already). Communication isn’t useful if it’s just one-way (when I say useful I mean for both the parts involved, players and devs). I think most of the game’s issues and problems need *deep* discussions. A deep discussion doesn’t mean to give voice to the whiners. Whiners thrive when communication is closed:
1- To communicate with devs.
2- To know what *devs think*.
3- To have a positive (constructive) discussion.

Since there’s no way to meet one of the devs and have a discussion aimed to understand and solve a particular issue, the only solution left is to rant. Rant and rant till it will grow so much that devs will consider it a big issue and so they’ll try to address it. The more “noise” you can produce the more devs will pay attention, because it will become an issue even for them. It’s the same about politic, where you cannot talk directly with the peoples who are representing you. So you can only draw the attention with manifestations, strikes, riots and similar strategies. But this isn’t desirable nor healthy.

It isn’t healthy because I consider the whole ranting community as a resource, not as a problem. The strategy shouldn’t be aimed to reinforce the ivory tower against the attack of the huge community. This is silly, you are shielding yourself from your main resource. You need, instead, to provide more and more ways to let the community express freely, suggest solutions and so on. To be more open, not more closed. At the end both players and devs just want the game to be better and better. This can be done together and not one against the other.

Mythic has introduced Team Leaders for example. This helps at trying to filter the noise and let flow in the good parts, but they also failed. They failed because TLs are the only way to communicate with them. Yes, you can still send them bug reports and solutions but you’ll never know if what you are sending is interesting or useful for them. They could think you suggested a stupid or impossible idea, but you’ll never know. And not knowing it makes you feel frustrated, because you cannot understand *why* devs are making those choices. You cannot know what *they* think, you cannot discuss with them to explain your point etc… This brings to a broken communication, with devs defending the tower and players ranting at will. There’s no communication and, because of this, there’s no understanding.

What I wrote about DAoC can be applied even here:

“Your only way to communicate revolves about the income of feedback and the outcome of patch notes (aside rare reports from the Producer).
This is not a discussion, nor efficent communication.

I strongly believe a better way to communicate could have solved many of the past disasters, for example the infamous nerf to zergs. There are issues which need you, your devs, your design team or whoever, to join the discussion. To *talk* about your game, about your ideas, about solutions, possible solutions, alternatives, possible consequences. And so on.


You miss completely the confrontation.

I strongly believe that the boards are full of whiners as a consequence of this behaviour. Because there’s no way to talk with you.”

What I think will help all the three parts involved (players, devs and the game) is a more *honest* and open relationship between devs and players. I think mmorpgs need more passionate devs aside the passionate players. Devs who like to “go out” and discuss their game and their choices, to enter in a deep discussion, to get their hands “dirty”. Not just witty or humorous remarks. If this happens I expect a long list of improvements. Players will rant less and understand more what devs are doing, devs will receive tons of more focused and useful feedback than just an incredible amount of suggestions sent through an interface of the game, the game will be better because it will benefit of a positive relationship between devs and players and so on.

I’m currently studying about large industries spending an incredible amount of money to hire research institutes to work about the “communication”. Not only the communication with the customers, but also the communication between the various layers of the staff, in particular when what you produce is a “work of mind”. So don’t consider this as a minor issue. It’s not. The communication isn’t directly involved in the game itself but it’s a layer absolutely important. Another of those parts where other companies offering mmorpgs have failed. I hope Blizzard will take into consideration this too.

– The players –

Pasting from a discussion on another forum:

Quoting someone else: As much as I want to be exicited about WOW, I am sadly forced to remain skeptical. You see, the majority of these favorable reviews neglect to mention the one fatal flaw of the MMOG in question – the players.

My answer: For now I don’t know. They seem like in the usual mmorpg. The point is that I played these three days absolutely alone, like if it was WoW RPG. I explore the world and do things, go questing on my own. Sometimes I could go to a mine and meet other players there, cooperating to go inside (since these spots are defended). I’ve met friendly peoples offering equipment and so on.

The game doesn’t ask you to be an ass. You don’t need to fight for spots or to fill indispensable roles in a party. The game simply doesn’t need you to be a problem for someone else. You play in awe, along with everyone else.

The way you play this game is completely different from any other mmorpg to date. It still based on the same ideas as always but you finish to live in here as an “experience”, not as a treadmill to reach a point. It is a lot more near to a single player rpg with a multiplayer addition than a mmorpg.

Players around you just add to your enjoyment, making the game more alive and friendly.

– Conclusion –

This essay/review is more aimed to Blizzard than an interested player from the outside. I’ve tried to cover all the issues I find important. Both the parts that are already wonderful in the game and those that will have a central role in the future and for the health of this game. One of the most important thing to notice is that the game is *already* amazing and wonderful. During betas (but also after launches) I’m always there thinking “if they can change this and this and add that perhaps it won’t be bad”, always waiting a bit more, hoping that things will turn out in a good way. Always *hoping*. Look for example at SWG. Everyone was complaining about so many parts of the game, the launch was really too close to expect a good game and, still, after a year many consider it absolutely upsetting and disappointing.

In every game to date you just wait because devs promise this and that. You wait and wait. The game is never fun *now*. It will be fun in three months, or six, or a year. Till you realize that it will never happen. In WoW you can forget about the promises, it’s by far the best mmorpg out there even if they pack everything and release it as it is. Surely it will lack of content and of PvP. But it already works and allows you to have fun. The issue is more about how much it can grow from here, how much it will compete against itself. But they aren’t saying that the engine is slow as hell because it still needs optimisations, or that the graphic looks like crap because they still need to rework stuff, or that the gameplay is absolutely boring and uninspired because it’s not finished. WoW is *already* a wonderful game world without the promises. It has *already* succeeded in many, many aspects compared with what the market has offered till now (and believe me when I say that EQ2 and MEO will turn out to be extremely disappointing). WoW isn’t a timid hope doomed to die or shrink. It isn’t overestimated. WoW isn’t about *promises*, it’s about *delivering*.

The NDA being dropped is a major sign. NDA is just there to protect companies from the evident failures of what they are producing. WoW has nothing to fear because it is an excellent product (again, right at this time, not in six months). Blizzard is showing its resources and its confidence in this project and they are like “doomed to succeed”. This won’t turn in a disappointment if something bigger doesn’t happen. It’s the opposite of what I’ve seen till now: “if they fix and add this perhaps the game won’t be that bad” is being replaced with: “even if they screw this and that the game is still amazing, they simply cannot ruin it”. We are starting from a positive position, while, till now, we always started playing the “catch up” with the rest of the market. Trying to reach Ultima Online, or DAoC or EverQuest. Always trying to fix broken and unfun games, with legions of players ranting with vigor, devs closed in ivory towers, constantly sieged by their customers. And they defend and defend. Their promises are a way to defend the structure. WoW doesn’t need it and devs working on this project shouldn’t fear the confrontation.

You can draw a line between what’s already delivered and what will happen in the next months till release. WoW is already gone far beyond my expectations. I was here passing my days discussing about the balance of PvP and about how good mmorpgs should be designed. Complaining a lot about the lack of ideas. WoW has made me consider parts of the game I simply never cared about, like the graphic, the style of the world, the music, the immersion and so on. And it still accomplished a lot, a whole lot, even when it comes to the strict design by solving many of the plagues of this genre.

I think this game is a “saver” of the genre (finally). I hope it will be able to improve constantly form here and not just sit because it achieved already a lot more than the competition. I hope WoW will grow on its own, without depending on the market. Without relaxing on its own excellence.

And even if this doesn’t happen you’ll still have a great game.

(When stupid marketers and rival devs will see all this succeeding they will all say it’s just a matter of “brand” and other stupid conclusion. No one will be able to see where WoW is a great game and *why* it fixed so much of the stupidity deep-rooted in the mmorpg genre. And I’ll laugh at them… A bit depressed because this could have happened *long ago*.)

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

[mud-dev] Offline play


J C Lawrence:
Actually the cynical mould is a bit worse than that. In the early days of the product you want lots of players on the servers as that creates an impression of crowd, business, popularity etc. Later, once the player base is well established and large what you actually want is for almost all them to never play (thus saving bandwidth, hardware, networking, presence costs etc), leaving a small enough percentage playing to maintain the sense of vibrant activity for the new players to replace your churn.

Yes, this makes sense for the marketing but doesn’t work in the reality. Players don’t pay for a game they don’t play.

I still believe that marketing works if you have a product to offer. You cannot, instead, build a successful product by just following marketing rules because the marketing itself should be derived from the quality of the offer.

Just above that you say: “From a marketing perspective you never want to make it easy or attractive for a customer to decide to leave your service.”

Well, that applies also to what you write below. Incentivate your players to “not play” is again about making it easy for them to leave.

Raph Koster:

Players don’t pay for a game they don’t play.

A disturbingly large number of them do, actually. Not all, obviously, but still a significant percentage. If you look at “unique player logins in a month” it just about never reaches 100%, nor does it match the churn rate (in other words, the people who do not log in also don’t all quit). I don’t have monthly figures handy, but you can have a game that shows 70% of the userbase logging in every week, and not have anywhere near 30% of them quitting–in fact, not even a tenth of them will quit.

I know this. In fact I’m subscribed to FFXI even if I don’t log in from months. But this doesn’t disproof what I wrote. The fact that I’m not playing the game makes me a lot more near to the decision to cut it. What you are doing here is the most common mistake. You observe a behaviour and draw a completely wrong rule. We were considering the design. I simply think that is overly stupid to develop a game that doesn’t want you to play. For obvious reasons (look at the last line of this message).

My line you quoted there is surely wrong if you take it in its absolute meaning. But the fact is that you cannot read it, prove that it is wrong and so demonstrate its contrary: “you can design successful games that incentivate players to stay offline”.

Both in what I write and what you write there’s a sub-text.
1- “Players don’t pay for a game they don’t play” has the subtext “incentivate the players to play because here is the success”
2- “A disturbingly large number of them do, actually” has the subtext “the success of a game isn’t tied to the fact that players use to play it”

This is what I mean. It’s true that there are players that don’t play but pay. But this isn’t useful to draw a positive design strategy. Designing a game for players that don’t play not only will make you loose those who play. But also those who don’t.

There are peoples that buy cars and then don’t use them. So you think that you can develop a successful car that doesn’t move?

And let’s focus on the content and not on the form. The line you quoted is “truth” if you consider the context of my message, “false” if you isolate it, like you did. At the other side your message here is “false” if we consider its context, “true” if we consider it isolated (since I cannot argue nothing that you wrote here). What I did in this message is to provide back the context to mine and your message to demostrate that mine is true and your false.

You win on the form, I win on the content :)

I want also to add that the title of the message isn’t its topic. The problem of the casual crowd, and so the mass market, is WAY more complex than a simple issue with the time you have available. In fact a casual player can still love single-player games that are excassively long, just by playing them at the “pace” he chooses. The problem is simply inherited by the fact that time and play puts GAPS between the players. The issue is originated by the structure of the treadmill, where “young” players cannot play with older ones.

I have many design ideas on how to solve the problem about “Casual Crowd vs.Time Rich Crowd” and they are along the lines of creating different structures inside the game where different players have different roles and goals. Where casual players have a specific role and goal and where time rich crowds have another. And the *key* is about giving them different roles but making they play *together* with the same general goal.

Separating them with different personal goals and roles and pushing them to play together for a communal goal. I’m cooking an article about this.

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

About this forum

The threads on this forum will be locked. You can read what I post but you cannot comment. It will be a collection of long messages and entire threads that won’t fit on the homepage. It’s a place where I’ll save both what I and others write.

If someone wants to comment something, open a specific thread in the other forum (The Cesspit).

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

[mud-dev] Socialization requires downtimes

Raph Koster:
We may not like it, but all empirical evidence at the moment seems to show that requiring cooperative team play for success causes greater retention.

More data points would certainly be helpful, since it’s quite possible that other factors are at play here. I personally have nothing against team play but also wouldn’t want it to be the sole defining gameplay paradigm.

I think it’s a side effect. The team play encourages the socialization and the socialization produces ties between the players. When a game encourages the cooperation it also makes every activity more fun and varied. Perhaps just because you chat while doing something boring. It could be actually relaxing.

Group of players can then recursively motivate each member. You have goals and you have a role inside a group. The team play itself is simply an incentive, a stimulus, producing a series of positive side effects. Because those groups become the soul of a game, even more than what you are able to offer with the work of a dev team.

This isn’t going to the opposite direction of who likes the solo play. Forcing groups is both what players want and hate. Why? I think it’s not because we have different players liking different games but because being forced to group brings to consistent limitations. Often you are forced to wait. You could wait just for a minute or more than an hour. You could also find an horrible group and waste even more time. And so on.

Group dynamics are always more fun than playing solo but often you are more focused on what you are trying to achieve. Finding, building and mantaining a good group is often not easy and not fast. If all this blocks your activity you have the reason why many players hate to not have the possibility to play alone.

And to conclude, a team work (intended as contemporary play and notjust as interdependence) requires also “more” from the player. It requires a constant attention and it means that you have to focus on what you are doing. Playing alone gives, instead, a lot more freedom. You can stop when you want, you can surf the web for a few minutes, watch TV and so on.

Now I don’t think that one of those models is better than the other. Each player should have the possibility to choose considering a precise situation. Playing alone must be always an option. Group play must be always strongly encouraged. Remembering that bringing players together will be healthy for the game.

And I’d like to add because this point of view opens new perspectives. Considering what I wrote I think that the teamwork shouldn’t be enforced and isn’t the best solution to create a “relationship” between the players. There’s a better way. I think these games should move the focus outside the character. Loosing this egoistical obsession. Instead of requiring teamwork to achive something on a personal “power” treadmill, they should provide more communal goals. I think that at this point the design could advance, till now we had only games where the only purpose is about gaining more power for your character. All that you have around is a “tool” to gain that power, from experience, to loot, to gold that can be used to buy different “forms” of power. The only dynamical element is the single character, all the rest is faked. Nothing changes aside the fact that your character is stronger or richer.

An evolution is about adding more sense to the structure and build, “on top” of the personal treadmill, a different system where the players need to cooperate to achieve communal objectives. This not only will help the community to become stronger but it will also instill a good amount of motivation, enthusiasm, sense of participation and fulfillment, in each player. It could be a very strong force driving the game. More effective to provide fun and involvment. And it doesn’t matter if you use the PvE or PvP to achieve that because there’s potential in both.

The idea is about bringing the community *inside* the gameplay. To be part of the gameplay directly. I think this has the possibility to be more effective and successful.

Jeff Freeman:

Byron Ellacott:
That’s true, but Raph was speaking about retention. Force, encourage, require social interaction and you presumably forge bonds that people are reluctant to sever by leaving the game.

I have a hard time accepting this as fact, personally, because it hasn’t ever worked to keep me playing a game.

I play with the one or two other people that I came to play with, and if the game forces me to play alone or with people other than those, then I quit.

I understand that I might be atypical, when I am in an understanding mood. The rest of the time I think the ‘evidence’ of this effect is pretty weak.

Jeff Freeman:

Here we are considering the subscriptions numbers at an high level. Not many people play with one or two friends. Everyone is generally part of bigger groups even if then you can define sub-groups inside big guilds. These groups always work as magnets because they really make or break the game. A good guild is able to mantain alive the interest of each member, the guild itself becomes more important than the patch notes of the game.

Oh, there are definitely wider groups of people we know that we play with occassionally. But there aren’t too many MMO’s we could go to and NOT find a subset of this sort of game-spanning meta-guild. That wider circle of friends and acquaintances doesn’t keep us in any one particular game, because we can change games without leaving the circle. Talking about people we’ve known in UO, EQ, DAOC, SWG, AC, AC2, E&B and now COH (we even played NWN, Diablo, Serious Sam, Dungeon Seige and so on without leaving “the guild”), that we mostly keep in touch with via webboards.

So how does that ‘guild membership’ (so to speak) serve to keep me tied to any particular game?

Well, rhetorical question that, because in my case it definitely doesn’t. But you look at other web/forum game communities and it seems obvious those folks are also playing lots of different games and migrating from one to another as the spirit moves them – without ever leaving their circle of friends.


Jeff Freeman:
I think we’ve wandered pretty far away from the topic of “forced grouping increases retention”, though.

I agree :) Let me gather back the two parts to go back to the topic:
I think you are a special case because you are a dev, even if not *that* special, so you like to jump from one game to another, trying different things and follow the “mmorpg community” as a whole, and not specific to a particular game. I really think that this behaviour is going to increase with the time but, till now, the communities seem quite steady, in particular when it comes to the big guilds.

Passionate players don’t like at all moving from game to game, they like a lot more to settle down, build their name and consolidate, if they are able to find a place they like. Instead, if they move is not because they like to, but because they are generally pissed off by how a company manages the game. It’s not the curiosity to move them, but the disappointment and the hope for something better. In particular this is a genre where the dedication is always rewarded. The gameplay itself wants you to stay and open your possibilities with the time, otherwise the experience is bland.

What I meant is that this “nomadic” attitude isn’t common, at least I dont think it was till now. Forced grouping increases nothing by itself. This is the same infinite discussion going on at Grimwell. The relationship between the players *is* one of the strongest elements to determine the health of a game, and so the number subscribers, but it must be considered from the right point of view.

I think that the players like to find a “home” and settle down. If the gameplay supports this I’m quite sure it will have a strong, positive effect on the raw success, in particular in the long period. The point is that this consideration has been translated into a poor application. The socialization is important, but it must be supported from *inside* the game. It’s what I wrote about breaking the “third wall”.

As a designer you surely have to look at the socialization as one of the most important part of the game (the most important along with the accessibility, I think). But when you start to define its role into the game you must do this from *inside* the game layer. The discussion on Grimwell demonstrates how the focus on the socialization part always happen at the *expense* of the fun. The fun, in this case, is simply the “gameplay” level. So you accept compromises, exactly what is explained into Raph’s essay.

The rule is that the “socialization *requires* downtimes”. So, or you simply build a fighting game, where the social layer is sacrificed. Or, if you want to give depth and prevalence to this other part, you need to accept compromises and take design choices that go against the fun. This happens exactly when we consider the forced grouping or when we consider the “wounds” in SWG, or all the various interdependencies in it to excuse the various classes together. You are forced to go back in a cantina after a fight to cure the wounds so that the socialization has a “space”. To open this space Raph choosed to sacrify the gameplay.

What I think is that this breaks the “third wall”. In the design stage the socialization takes over the game, but the game is also our frame, we cannot break it because we are going to break a basic rule: the third wall itself. The common belief (that brings to ignore this warining) is that you can then excuse the design decision inside the game (I call this process “dressing”). So that, first, you take a design decision, outside the game layer. Then, you work on the excuse to “dress” the idea and make it fit into the setting. The third wall seems not broken because the idea seems believable. Well, my idea is that this “dressing” process isn’t of any use. Every single player is able to see that the third wall was broken, because every single player is able to understand where and when the gameplay is sacrificed. Exactly where the devs have choosen to take the compromise to push on the socialization at the expense of the fun.

This isn’t just Raph. This is everyone. Too often design decisions have been taken as compromises against the fun. In their eyes this is a compromise that you *have* to accept. Another part needs the focus, if you want it you need to make a choice. Instead I think this is just an *alarm* that tells you that there’s a problem *before* this stage, before you arrive at this point. The problem is about breaking the third wall. It’s an error in the approach, not in the implementation. The error in the implementation is derivative of the approach. The solution I’ve found is that everything you want in the game must be considered, analyzed and implemented from *inside* the game itself.

Academic discussions absolutely missing any kind of context are foolish. You cannot define how long should be a treadmill or how much time players should spend socializing, *without a context*. It could be interesting for the discussion but it’s absolutely avoid of any use. Designing a game from the outside to the find then excuses to dress the idea, doesn’t work. It breaks a basic rule, it shatters the game, it isn’t fun, it feels faked, it feels forced and we can go on. A long list of side-effects because there’s a mistake at the origin.

I really believe that the socialization can be a strong gameplay element that doesn’t hinder the fun, fighting against the “game” part, but that it’s coordinated with the other part. The tricks is about finding solutions from inside the game and not starting from general academic reasoning out of context. The socialization shouldn’t be “excused” or “well dressed”. The socialization must be concrete, not simulated.

The example: The common treadmills are about personal goals. The mistake is that the goal is personal, but the process to achieve it is communal. It’s a strongly egoistic society that still forces people together, helping each other. This is broken. The opposite should happen. Players should have *communal* goals that can be achieved both solo and in group. “Magically” a faked design that *enforces* the socialization at the expense of the fun, becomes completely natural. Asking cooperation where the damn objective (goal) is about the cooperation itself.

This is the good way to bring people together. This will create ties between the players, this will make them more involved in the life of a community. You don’t work anymore just for yourself. You work on a bigger scale but where your role must always be valuable and perceptible. Being part of a community with communal goals to achieve adds a lot of depth to a game. The socialization isn’t anymore an external part of the game. Out of context because it is used to reach a personal goal. The socialization becomes the game itself. It’s both “means” and “end”. And you’ll never be forced to take decisions against the fun because the socialization doesn’t rule the game. It’s the game to rule and define the socialization.

It’s *stupid* to give the players an egoistic goal and then tell them they have to group. Every damn game I know is based on this mistake at the origin of the design: academic reasoning without coherence and cohesion with the rest of the game. A list of damn “features” linked together with excuses.

This is flawed. If you want a MMORPG to be “healthy” you cannot plan it as a collage.


Yannick Jean:
Repeating myself here, but it must said again: If you want casual players in your game, downtime and travel time as mean of encouraging socializatrion must go.

Well, it’s fun to see that even if we have different topics we all talk about the same issue. But really, I just joined the list two months ago, noone till now has ever tried to see if the socialization can be part of the game *without* going against the fun?


Michael Sellers:
If retaining more subscribers for longer is a goal, one of the best ways to do this is to provide an environment that strongly encourages social interaction and bonding.

I agree. What I’d hope is that the designers won’t translate this into a three-months hole/timesink in the design to make happen this interaction.

What is fun is that they choosed to not design to encourage this social interaction. Add a timesink here, add another there. Non-design for the win! The solution for the best game ever is to not implement the game at all! The game is so empty that you’ll have to chat with someone to find some sort of fun. Clever!

Perhaps someone will take IRC, rebrand it and add a monthly fee of 12.99$? A genius!

I really think that the instant you make a player turn the head to watch TV or start to chat about politics or football, you have *failed* in your work big time. Same if someone yawns watching a movie. A defeat, not a success.

You know, I’m so stupid to think that you can encourage social interaction WITH the gameplay. And not without it.


I don’t really see why it would be impossible to have “downtime” within the sphere of game-play?

That’s my whole point. That’s what I tried to justify in my message with a lot of reasons. Not only the socialization will be meaningful but it will also be stronger (because excused and tied within the game). In particular it will also remain immersive, without breaking the third wall with artificial stratagems to hold the various, unexcused parts of a game together.


Raph Koster:
However, you seem to have arrived at a conclusion as to which of the above are in-game and which are out-of-game. I am not sure that the issue is quite that simple–I can read all of the above as “in game” or “out of game” depending on how we define “game.”

Well, I agree with the rest of your message, so I quote just this.

Yes, I tried to define downtimes within the gameplay and downtimes outside it. My whole critic is about that. In my opinion the best way to make the distinction is right at the design stage. I already said that single player games don’t even have this problem because the design NEVER goes out the gameplay. The problem comes up when we involve the socialization as an external element (the “error” I assume you are making is exactly about considering the socialization as an external part). Parallel to the gameplay and not within it.

Let’s make an example: travel.

Travel in Diablo 2 is managed in two ways. You can walk out the camp or you can use teleporters. The first happens when there’s gameplay involved. The travel is part of the gameplay because you search monsters, fight them, explore dungeons and so on. The movement is gameplay. So it’s in the game. The second way is about the use teleporters. When you use them? When you need shortcuts to bypass zones that you have already explored. It means that now the travel is empty of the gameplay. You have killed already the monsters or you are not anymore interested in their value. This is why the designers have added a way to “jump” a part of a game where there’s no gameplay.

You see? Timesinks = empty part of a game. In a single player game the gameplay is all. A “void” is of any use, so the timesinks (or downtimes) are ditched.

Another example could be about a PvP game. In DAoC the players are complaining because now they can port everywhere. This means that you’ll never be able to ambush someone else by patrolling a zone. Because people use the teleporters and don’t walk anymore on the roads.

You see in this case? The timesink related to a long travel, in a PvP context, becomes a STRONG gameplay element. Because the travel gives depth to the geography. You can be attached when moved from a place to another. The players could use strategies to attack a village as a diversion while they plan a bigger attack far somewhere else. IF the travel has a gameplay value the defenders won’t be able to port everywhere. And this, again, gives the travel a STRONG gameplay value.

In both examples, single player and mmorpg, a “downtime” is allowed or ditched based on the *gameplay*. When there’s gameplay involved the system remains. If there’s zero gameplay the system is ditched (teleporters in Diablo 2). This means, to go back at what you write, that these cases happen “in game”.

Instead, your “socialization requires downtimes” is *completely different*. You *deliberately* open empty spaces into the gameplay, so that the gameplay itelf is tossed away (“at the expense of fun”) to produce a space to encourage a different part. The other face of the medal: The socialization. In your model the medal have two faces. The game and the socialization. They exist on the same level and “socialization requires downtimes” just explains that to allow a face to exist you need to go against the other (a similar problem happen with PvP hindering the PvE and vice versa). The downtimes (in the gameplay) are required (compromise) to allow another part to exist (socialization).

The downtimes *happen* in the gameplay. But AREN’T for the gameplay. They are there because a designer needs them for an “out of game” purpose: the socialization.

From my point of view “in game” downtimes CANNOT be confused with those “out of game”. It’s way too obvious. Where the edge is blurred is when we go back To Jeff Freeman’s message about “pacing”. The downtimes regulating the “pace” always happen “in game”. Even when the side purpose is to encourage socialization. Why? Because the downtime doesn’t happen at the expense of the gameplay, but it’s coordinated with it. Pacing is an important part of the gameplay, not outside it.

This is why a type of travel that has no role in the gameplay and is in the game just to force the player to chat is a timesink/downtime “out of game”. In SWG this happens for the shuttles, this happens for the “wounds” and it even happens in the relationships between the professions. Because the interdependences are ALL “out of game” to excuse the two face of the medal together (gameplay / socialization). Like using the image designers to change the statistics of the characters.

It is your “socialization requires downtimes” to produce an “out of game” downtime. And just because you have a model where the socialization exists aside the gameplay and not within it. This is the whole center of the issue, the beginning of what I define “the error”.

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged: