DFTM

Words, dancing grannies and other stuff

It’s been a busy couple of weeks/month and I still have a lot of school work left to be done before I can try to enjoy the summer (which for a freelancer means “find more work”, i.e. business as usual). Here’s a few of the things that’s been keeping my occupied lately.

The biggest project I’ve been involved in is helping out with PR and communications for the Swedish indie film Granny’s Dancing on the Table‘s Kickstarter campaign. In the end we managed to raise $54,284 from 928 backers (making the goal of $50k), which felt incredible. All the money will go towards the film and shooting is set to start this autumn.  When it premiers in 2013, Granny’s… will be released both commercially and for free on The Pirate Bay under a Creative Commons-license. Hanna Sköld, the director, has previously released her film Nasty Old People in the same way – check out its website for torrent links if you want to see it.

A few weeks ago now, a couple of brilliant UK games journalists banded together and created PC Games N, the first website from the newly started media company Network N. The team behind the site includes such greats as Tim Edwards, James Binns (formerly of Future Publishing) and launch editor Dan “The Grill” Griliopoulos (one of my favorite writers in general, lovely guy). I wrote some words for them, including a Rift “state of the game” article and a look at what Trion can teach other MMO devs. I also wrote a bit about Star Wars: The Old Republic’s 1.3 patch (server transfers wasn’t live at the time and the LFG-tool was detailed while I was writing so I had to go back and change things around – great timing!) and where newbies can find pew pew in EVE Online.

Last week I had the chance to go on a dev-led tour of some of the high-end areas of Funcom’s upcoming modern world MMO The Secret World. While I’m still worried that Funcom will have a hard time delivering a proper end-game at launch – and will walk right into the same trap as Star Wars: The Old Republic did – I had a lot of fun battling Mayans and giant demons straight out of Lovecraft. I wrote about the tour at FZ.se, with Google Translate to the rescue for the Swedish impaired. If you read the latter, I would like to point out that the carousels are obsessed – it’s not me obsessed with carousels…

As usual, I’ve also been podcasting with the boys and girls over at CSICON. Claims of the Normal has reached its 88th episode and we recorded our 16th episode of The Three MMOsketeers last week (with a new one being recorded tonight). The reactions we’ve been getting for the MMOsketeers have been great so far, which warms my otherwise cynic heart. Feedback is, as always, very welcome and we hope you have as much fun listening to us babble on about MMOs as we have talking about them.

I’ve done some other stuff as well, including a four page review of Tera in PC Gamer Sweden, and this week I’ll be heading on another MMO dev tour on behalf of a certain major US MMO blog while work with Granny’s Dancing on the Table continues. Oh, and that school work I mentioned. Summer, bah. Who needs it?

Posted on June 19th, 2012 in Miscellaneous 

#SWG – here today, gone tomorrow

I got some pictures from my old guild master of a spaceship event that my old Star Wars Galaxies-guild did. These are from after atmospheric flight was introduced towards the end of the game’s lifespan. I can’t help looking at these screenshots at wonder what kind of mechanics the developers could have created if they were allowed to continue working on the game.

Just so we are clear – these are pictures of player flown ships, most of them probably crafted by other players; you could decorate the interior of many of the higher tier ships, you could invite your buddies and you could fly out and have grand space adventures together. The city in the background is Prometheus, our guild city. A city placed there by us, the players, on the landscape of the moon Lok.

So much potential, wasted. So much player creativity, gone. So much bad reputation, because of insanely stupid decisions taken years ago. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again - Star Wars Galaxies, six month before the servers closed, was an amazing MMO. It could have been even better. Here’s why some of us love a good sandbox.

Posted on June 5th, 2012 in Games 

Stop the madness

The problem is that you will never get as good a single-player experience in a multiplayer game as you would if it was single-player in the first place, and even thinking about single player in these terms is to miss the point. Sure, it’s good to have something to do even if you’re not hanging with a group. But the best stories you get in any MMO are the ones you create for yourself. The world can add context and meaning to them, but they have to emerge organically for them to feel like anything other than just another step on the road to maximum level. (Rock, Paper Shotgun, A Rant: Enough of Single-Player MMOs)

The more often stuff like this is said on high-profile gaming websites, the better. Lately I’ve seen this sentiment mirrored in a lot of different places, forums and Reddits I don’t usually associate with beating on the sandbox drum. Having something like this on Rock, Paper, Shotgun which is read, and widely respected, by developers all over the world is a good, good thing. Go on, read the whole thing and the comments.

The big theme park MMO isn’t viable anymore. Developing them costs a huge amount of money, which all is spent on content that the players will burn through in a heart beat. Unless you got the tools, the talent and the resources to push out eight major updates in a year like Trion did with Rift, you’ll risk hitting the same wall as Bioware have done with SWTOR. And Trion are still having problems with players burning out on their game faster than they can produce new content!

So stop this madness. Just stop it.

Posted on May 23rd, 2012 in Games 

Housing, it’s complicated

Daedric princes, birthsigns, guilds, and many more elements that players strongly associate with the franchise are all integral parts of the game. Some things, like player housing, aren’t making the transition to an MMO because of the constraints inherent to an online game, but Zenimax Online is including everything that makes sense. (Game Informer, What Elder Scrolls Online Offers Skyrim Fans, MMO Players)

Quick, call the developers of Lord of the Rings Online, Everquest 2, the original Everquest, Final Fantasy XI, Runes of Magic, (the late) Star Wars Galaxies, Vanguard, Wurm, Ultima Online, Wakfu, whoever came up with guild ships in Dungeons & Dragons Online and the guy behind astral ships in Allods Online, the dev team in charge of fleshing out the concept of guild ships in SWTOR, or any other MMO studio that includes player owned housing or variants thereof and tell them that because of the constraints inherent to an online game their housing systems make no sense.

Posted on May 12th, 2012 in Games 

What to learn from #SWTOR?

Through the end of the quarter, approximately 2.4 million units have sold through. In our last call we indicated that we had 1.7 million active subscribers, and as of the end of April we now have 1.3 million, with a substantial portion of the decrease due to casual and trial players cycling out of the subscriber base, driving up the overall percentage of paying subscribers. (EA Q4 FY12 prepared comments, emphasis mine – source 1, 2)

This statement from EA during their Q4 earnings call goes a long way to show that 1) the numbers do include the players getting a free month (seems like they did end up using that as a way to pad numbers) and 2) the endgame model used by Bioware (“please, please, play alts”, operations, PvP) is broken as the casuals are cycling out. You don’t want to lose those casuals and the way to keep them happy and playing doesn’t seem to be offering them the same as the hardcore but at an “accessible” level.

Want to learn from the failures of others? SWTOR is hardly dead in the water, but it offers an opportunity for other game developers to learn valuable lessons for free. Are you listening, Zenimax?

Posted on May 8th, 2012 in Games 

The MMO things we do

While my last post about cancelling my Tera-account failed to convince Reddit, one comment there stood out to me and made me think. Then I got depressed.

1 guy don’t want to play the game because he is surprised you do MMO things in an MMO which he is already doing in Rift.

I’ve seen similar comments before, especially on official forums when people complain about the lack of endgame – I saw it quite often on the official SWTOR forums for example, when people started to hit 50 and finished their main class quest chain. In other words, reaching endgame and finding either a lack of content or simply a gear grind is what you’re supposed to do in a MMO.

The end?

The end?

I find this terribly cynical. We’re not supposed to expect more from the games we play and pay for? It’s also proved to be quite the design problem for companies – players will run through that content much faster than the developers can produce it. We’ve seen that over and over again. With no secondary game systems in place, you risk having a lot of paying customers leave either because of burnout or because they simply aren’t interested in doing that in yet another game.

Gear progression can be a lot of fun and I love theory crafting and learning my class. I did in World of Warcraft, I currently do in Rift. I don’t believe in the inherent evils of min-maxing. What I firmly believe is that the “MMO things in an MMO” don’t end there. What kind of endgame would we have if Bioware hadn’t spent all that money on voice overs and instead put $50 million on making varied endgame content on top of the operations/PvP? Hell, $10 million?

I know, investors want to play it safe. That’s the sad reality. Because of this, indies will stay indies and the large MMO companies will go for what they believe is the safest route – what they know large parts of the communities will see as the “MMO things”. Yet, there seems to be this total disregard about alternative systems that can complement the raiding and gear grinding. Rift had its artifacts, its events and rifts on top of the normal endgame – adding Emerald Isle, a new outdoor zone aimed at level-capped characters, on top of that. Players still burn out of course, but having played a lot at level cap now I still have things to do outside of the raids. Instead companies release a game, then scramble desperately to retain players by adding more and more gear-related content and raids instead of thinking outside the box for a bit. Just a tiny, little bit.

Wurm Online

New profession in SWTOR - cart building! Anyone?

I’m talking about complementing, not replacing. I promise, I haven’t gone full Wolfshead and started to hate modern MMOs. I really haven’t. Yet I can’t help feeling that the safe route no longer is to just throw more raids at the players. The trick is to keep us occupied outside the hamster wheel of gear grinds – especially when you have insane amounts of money to spend, like Bioware did. Making MMOs is terribly expensive, though it looks to me like a large part of the various budgets are wasted on things that don’t really give the game in question better longevity; like high quality voice-overs on everything.

More research is desperately needed. The MMO genre seems to be chugging along according to a couple of basic truisms that haven’t been questioned in a long time; truisms that keep putting companies into trouble. Pay a sociologist, a media researcher, a psychologist, anyone. Have them do action research, let them play your competitors’ games for months while you start to flesh out your own. Be agile, work in constant research cycles. Hire good community representatives (i.e. don’t do an Earthrise) that talk to the players and feed that research. Don’t learn from the success of others, learn from their failures. The return on investment could potentially be huge.

(As an aside, I do have to consider why I – together with many others – left Rift relatively close to launch, despite it being as solid as it was from the start. Thinking back, it came down to a lack of enthusiasm. It was good, it was fun, but leveling up wasn’t different enough I guess. I think SWTOR gave me a new perspective on it and allowed me to enjoy it a lot more. Right now it feels like I haven’t had this much to do at level cap in a classic theme park MMO since The Burning Crusade. Sandboxy games like Star Wars Galaxies and Everquest 2 don’t count into this discussion, they are a post of their own. Or, in the case of the former, a novel. The overall subject of this post also ties into the larger “you rushed to cap, you got yourself to blame for being bored”-discussion.)

As customers, we should expect more, we shouldn’t pick up a new MMO with the full knowledge that we will probably be bored or that there will be a lack of content once we reach level cap. I think many of us have started to ask for more than that, no matter what a random poster on Reddit thinks. In Tera, I am not surprised that “you do MMO things in an MMO”. Not at all, I went in expecting a theme park with fun combat. But I am sad that Tera, like SWTOR, is starting to look like a one trick pony. Outside of combat, there’s nothing. Outside SWTOR’s storylines, there’s nothing. Except those MMO things we always do in MMOs, of course.

Posted on May 7th, 2012 in Games 

#Tera Online fails to convince (for now)

Initial disclaimer: My warrior in Tera is level 25, thus my impressions of the game is only based on what I’ve experienced and read about so far.

A few minutes ago I logged into my En Masse-account to cancel my Tera-subscription. While my account is still active, since the 30 days of free game time are far from up, and I might change my mind down the road, I’m already convinced that the game – in its current state – doesn’t have the staying power to keep me interested in the long run.

Boss fight!

Boss fight!

I agree with Levelcapped-Chris that the game is fun, and focusing on the fun is the right thing to do. At the same time, it also comes down to why you play MMOs in the first place. While I am having a lot of fun swinging my swords around, I know that as I crawl up the levels I will think more and more about progression – and if all there is is a gear grind, then count me out. As I pointed out in my last post, I am already doing that in Rift. That’s quite enough.

Comparing Rift and Tera (just like comparing Rift and SWTOR, for example) is inherently unfair. Rift has been out for a bit more than a year and Trion have been pumping out updates ever since launch (with 1.8 fresh on the servers and 1.9 already on the horizon). Tera is about a week old. The thing with the latter is that we have some insight into what the (near) future will bring by looking at the Korean version. There’s simply nothing there that interests me. There’s a guild housing NPC in Velika, but he doesn’t do anything – not in the US version, not in the Korean version.

Which brings me to the issue of guilds. I’m playing together with a bunch of MMO-bloggers and Twitterers (that’s a word, right?). We are a pretty small guild, and I don’t see it growing very much. Tera’s guild systems are aimed at large guilds, who have the members to make guild vs guild warfare fun and the grind for upkeep/reward tokens easier. The political system, which we will discuss on the next episode of the Three MMOsketeers, is mostly aimed at larger organizations. That’s an individual choice, and I only have myself to blame for that.

Guild Hall Guide

Stop taunting me!

Tera does have a lot of things going for it. The combat is a lot of fun. The group content (I’ve only experienced the first dungeon, Bastion of Lok, so far) looks extremely promising. Hunting for world bosses (I hate the term/acronym BAM) seems like a very viable way of keeping yourself entertained – I’ve tried to solo a couple and there’s a lot of adrenaline involved. The world and character design, if you can get past the obvious lack of actual clothing, are beautiful. Poporis rock. I agree with Arkenor – if you want a new shiny theme park MMO to keep you occupied for the time being, I don’t see how you can go wrong with Tera.

But with no real end-game beyond bashing monsters (of various sizes) for loot, and guild systems out of my reach, and no real replayability, I don’t think Tera is for me right now. If the combat would turn dull, there would be nothing left. So for now, I’ve cancelled. Come billing-time I might change my mind, and I’ll certainly be playing until the account runs out.

Posted on May 6th, 2012 in Games 

Wheeling and dealing in (and with) #Tera Online

As noted during the tenth episode of the Three MMOsketeers (anniversary!), while everyone and their extended families were playing the pre-purchase open beta weekend of Guild Wars 2 me and Arkenor were playing Tera Online. I’ve played GW2 a couple of times before and didn’t feel like downloading the whole client again just for a few hours of fun; also, I’m saving myself for launch and the Asura.

I didn’t plan on playing Tera this early on, but the smell of a fresh new MMO coupled with posts by Chris and Pete (and the news that Ark had picked it up) made me cave. So far, I’m not regretting it. The game is stable, except for a maintenance period that lasted longer than expected there have been no major crashes as far as I know, and it runs great on my rig that’s slowly getting old and unpredictable. Since I decided to pick up the US version, I have yet to experience any queues since I’m more or less always off prime time – that might also be because the PvP servers seem like the most popular and I’m carebearing it out on the only available roleplaying server.

The pros

The main sticking point of Tera is obviously the combat, especially if you are a melee class (as far as I’ve gathered from friends playing casters). I love my warrior; dual-weilding two swords while wading into packs of enemies gives a very satisfying feeling. While killing ordinary mobs might not always call for much movement, I try to be moving at all times to prepare myself for the time when it will be absolutely necessary to stay alive.

Not using any form of tab-targetting is great, there’s a certain freedom to it. The warrior only uses directional slashes, and I have to constantly make sure I am actually aiming at the mob. No standing around in one spot, DPS-racing against the enemy. Every fight I enter has similarities to a PvP-fight in other MMOs, dancing around the target to gain the upper hand and find a position where I can deal as much damage as possible while receiving as little as possible myself. The actual challenge level is quite low, so I’m looking forward to bringing her up against larger monsters (such as the BAMs) or actually giving tanking a try. I’ve never been interested in tanking in MMOs, but the kind of evasion tanking a warrior uses sounds like it could be a lot of fun.

Combat!

There’s a couple of other systems that I like in Tera – like that your bank is automatically shared between all your characters and that every character can level all crafting professions at the same time. The world design is beautiful in its epic, completely over the top way. One could argue that most characters – including some of the male ones, luckily – don’t wear much clothes or armor. The first mission I set for myself was finding a pair of decent pants. When I did, my upper body was suddenly very exposed. I can absolutely understand people who are turned away from Tera because of this design choice. It can be way too much at times, but it does fit into the rest of the world design.

In short, I’m enjoying Tera a lot. That said though…

The cons

While I could see myself playing a game like Tera for a long time – when jumping from Tera to Rift for some Hammerknell-raiding yesterday I already missed its combat and controls – I got a bad feeling that the stuff I enjoy now is really all there is. Looking at end-game, it looks to be the same as in so many other MMOs. Dungeon grinds, raiding, PvP, dailies. While those things might be great individually (except most dailies, god I hate dailies), the package as a whole looks shallow. I am tired of MMOs that work that way and that was one of the reasons why I was turned off SWTOR.

Also, I’m kind of doing that song and dance in Rift already (even if Rift’s end-game offers quite a lot of choice for me so far, since I haven’t done every quest or seen every nook and cranny of Telara yet). I don’t want to hit that wall and realise that the only thing I can dedicate myself to is better gear. Incidentally, most of the concept art shown during loading screens isn’t of combat – it’s mostly about crafting, about family, about society, about community. There might be something in the game that I’ve completely missed though, which I’m obviously hoping for.

What I haven’t missed is that the one big thing that might make me quit Tera in disgust right this minute is my own character. Not her class, as mentioned above the warrior plays wonderfully. But the actual character. I was stupid enough to choose to play a female High Elf warrior. C’mon, they look great. “Bad-ass”, even. The animations when she swings the swords looks amazing, even to the point of forgetting the fact that her armor looks like it would offer even less protection than a chainmail bikini (at least she’s wearing pants!). She’s in total control, tearing demons and sabertoothed tigers to pieces, dodging their blows and finishing them off with a well-placed whirlwind attack.

Look, pants! Oh...

Look, pants! Oh...

No, the main problem is the sounds she makes outside of combat. The ashamed giggle when she fails to harvest something. “Yes, I know I just cut up a whole pack of ravaging bears with my two swords, but I am so ashamed that I failed to pick up this flower! Giggle giggle!” That makes me want to stop harvesting, which would gimp her completely since you get vital buffs for gathering materials. The “yay!” she makes when she does harvest something can luckily easily be cancelled by moving as fast as possible, but she also makes it as soon as she crafts something. That makes me want to stop crafting. The absolutely atrocious sounds she makes when doing the /dance emote. Not vital to gameplay at all, it’s just a detail that drives me insane. She sounds like a really bored, badly paid stripper that has given up on life. At least she doesn’t magically spawn a stripper pole.

I’m playing a warrior for crying out loud, not a washed up porn star that still acts like she’s in her lower teens (nothing bad about porn stars, having never met one I am sure they are lovely people – that’s just a rhetorical stereotype, people). One day that “yay!” and stretched up arm she makes will make me quit the game, go straight to the En Masse website to cancel my sub and then uninstall the game.

Because there is another problem with Tera, which it shares with many other modern MMOs – it’s linear and has only one starting area. I’m currently questing in the Valley of Titans which is a level 20 zone, so it might open up more later. But right now I know that if I reroll a new character (trust me, I will try out all the emotes before committing to it long term), I will have to go through the exact same quests again in the exact same areas. While I wouldn’t expect every new MMO to go Vanguard-crazy, in which you more or less never had to go through the same starting area twice, it would be nice to at least have some form of choice. There’s no replayability for me here, and simply switching class doesn’t cut it. Especially since I want to play a warrior.

The end result

I am still on the fence about Tera, which I guess I should be after only 20 levels. I see a great combat system, but the whole game hints about being quite shallow beyond that. There are some UI-problems and guild related problems that they will have to solve (including no access roles for the guild bank, which means that even a guild filling its bank with low-level stuff – like we are doing – is forced to restrict access to the guild master and officers), but those I can live with and simply hope that En Masse and Bluehole fix. There’s the aspect of over-sexualisation, especially for the child-like Elin (even after the “censoring” of their clothes). There’s the issue of community, since what I’ve seen outside of our small guild has been horrible.

All of that can change over time. Someone, somewhere, might even change the High Elf emotes (bloody unlikely, but a man can dream). So maybe I should quit now and return in the future? Tera is a game I can see myself going back to over and over again simply for the thrill of combat – or to see first-hand some troll guild vote themselves into power using the game’s political system, which is bound to happen sooner or later. Bluehole and En Masse are clearly on to something here, they have a great combat-system to build upon. All things considered though, I think they have a lot of problems to deal with before the game will truly shine.

Update: Thanks to the Tera Online subreddit, I found this link to Twitter where a user asks about race changes and gets the reply that En Masse will “have more details on premium services this week.” If race changes become an option and the cost isn’t insane, it might be a way out. I guess it’s not a good sign that I’d rather pay money to change my race than go through those 20 levels again, but yeah… Let’s stay positive!

Posted on May 3rd, 2012 in Games 

Wakfuing it up (yes, it’s a verb now) #wakfu

Over the last weekend, I decided to embrace my inner adult (eh…) and play a game which at least visually looks like it’s aimed at kids. Wakfu is, in a sense, the sequel to Ankama’s incredibly popular (at least in France) Dofus and uses the same visual design – in fact, the two games share a lot of game features as well; including the isometric view, character classes and turn-based combat. It’s more of a sandbox game than Dofus though, with an ecosystem the players control and a political system where the players vote for a governor of their nation every two weeks. It looks naive and sweet, but it’s actually pretty hardcore – especially if you define “hardcore” as being grindy.

One of the more interesting facets of Wakfu is the economy. First of all, you can’t sell anything to NPC vendors; you can only sell stuff to other players (either using the market boards or your own personal shop). The money, called kama, is minted by the players using mined materials. Depending on what materials you use, the more money you get – since I’ve just started, I have to mine 10 iron ore that I can turn into a single kama. That process takes a while. Iron is easy to find, the nation I’ve chosen isn’t very populated so there’s not much competition for the iron, but I still have to run around and look for it since the spawns are spread out across the zone. I then bring the materials to a bank where the minting machines are located.

It should be pointed out that I have no education in economy, what I know about it is based on common knowledge and books like The Undercover Economist. But it’s hard not to consider the kind of research that could be done on this kind of microcosmos. When I pass another player’s shop, I check the prices – even if an item is being sold for one kama, that kama isn’t only a kama; it’s a whole process. That might change the more kamas you have, at some point you are probably “rich” enough to not having to bother with minting your own money. If the market works, then kama flows between players. And since there are no money sinks through an arbitrary NPC market (at least that I know of, remember that I’m a newbie), any kama minted stays in the economy (with the exception of money hoarded by some players).

CCP used to be open about the economy in EVE Online through the economic reports they released every quarter (“we have an actual economist on staff” was a mantra they kept repeating). I’d love to see something similar from Wakfu, and other sandboxes in general. Most games have some form of NPC market though, and money is usually created out of thin air – even EVE, with its complicated market, creates money this way. There’s no doubt that there’s been an inflation over the years as more and more ISK enter the system (again it’s important to point out that a lot of this ISK is hoarded by richer players, which in turn keeps inflation down).

But what happens to a market where only the players can create the money? What impact does the process of having to mine materials to turn into money have on the economy? Is there inflation? At what point does the shift from minting your own money to only using the market happen? Does it happen at all? Since a kama can’t be broken down into smaller parts, what is its actual value for the players?

Sadly, Wakfu doesn’t have that many players right now – it’s hardly barren, but it could do with some more people. I’d love to see a more active culture, but perhaps I’m spoiled by EVE Online. I decided to sign up for three months, I found a nice guild through Reddit, and will give it a proper go. But if there’s an economist out there who would like to take a look at a game completely in the control of the players, I’d recommend Wakfu.

In future posts about it, I’ll probably go back to my own interests – media, culture and sociology. After all, Ankama have created a trans-media product; both Dofus and Wakfu are examples of convergence culture.

Posted on April 16th, 2012 in Games 

The Secret World preview at FZ.se

Ragnar pushing on for that we shall soon realize that we are not alone, that we are only part of a störra army and we do not – in comparison to some other online role-playing actions – is selected hero. While the intro to the story may not be the best at expressing them, we feel, after all, exactly the same things all of you, so you feel absolutely as one of the crowd when several of us running around in Brooklyn and are clues that will lead us on …

Ah, Google Translate. How I love you. Anyway, I went to Oslo to play The Secret World and the resulting preview article is now up on FZ.se. If you’re not Swedish, and can deal with the kind of garbled English seen above, there’s always the Google Translated version. Be warned, since Google seems to translate the name “Ragnar” as “Raymond” from time to time. I have no idea why.

Then again, everybody loves Ragnar. Badoom-dish.

Posted on February 24th, 2012 in Games