The Daily Grind: What is your favorite MMO magic system?

While there are plenty of similarities among magic systems in MMOs (hey, how about you cast another fireball? There you go, champ!), there is a lot of variety as well. I'm always attracted to systems that put some though into their design, such as Guild Wars 2's illusion-based Mesmers, the mix-and-match Necromancers of Vanguard, and Lord of the Rings Online's wordy Rune-keepers.

At the very least, I have to applaud developers who at least put in the effort to gussy up the same mechanics in a new outfit. But when a team eschews the tired magic tropes and starts to get imaginative with spellcasting? That's when I perk up and pay attention.

What's your favorite MMO magic system and why?

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Betawatch: The Repopulation changes hands (January 20, 2017)

The good news for fans of The Repopulation is that the game is coming back online. The bad news is... well, it's completely changed hands, with Idea Fabrik (owners of the Hero Engine) taking the game and making it their own. Will it be as good as it could have been? Will it release and be stable? We just don't know right now. But it's coming back. The owners are also starting just by bringing the alpha back online, lest you expect a whole new game out of the gate.

And there's more beta news! Oh, boy, is there ever more beta news.

And yes, there's a list, and it's just below. Did we miss something in there? Let us know down in the comments. Do you want to share your opinions on this week's beta news? Do so in the comments. Sharing feelings about betas? That's what the comment section is for, folks, don't let us stop you.

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Examining the potential for exercise and exploration in Pokemon GO

Just in time for your New Year's resolution, we reported on how Pokemon Go was featured in a peer-reviewed study on getting people to move more. But truthfully, Pokemon and Nintendo have built exercise games several times in the past, and Niantic never advertises PoGO as an exercise game. It's an ARG. In fact, the official site never mentions exercise, just exploring. That being said, we don't really think of adventurers or explorers as being slugabeds. So what is PoGO doing with exploration that gets people to exercise, and is it really that effective?

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Chaos Theory: My Secret World 2017 goals

When the year-end Massively Overthinking asked about game resolutions, I honestly answered that I don't really make any because I hadn't ever done that and didn't expect to start. Many of the goals I make as I play throughout the year are pretty specific to what is happening at that time and what I feel inclined to do right then. But the topic stuck with me, and I began thinking about what goals I did have in The Secret World.

Once I started thinking about it in concrete terms, I was able to pinpoint a few more things I'd really like to accomplish this year. It turns out there are some that are more overarching than just an in-the-moment whim. So here they are: my 2017 TSW goals. At the close of this year, you can help me gauge how well I did. (Ironically, since this column was usurped by other topics hogging the spotlight for a couple of weeks, my first goal has already been achieved. Go me!) And please, add any goals you have in the comments!

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The Daily Grind: Is in-game advertising the MMO genre's post-lockbox future?

Massively OP reader Sally Bowls pointed us to a fun piece on Frankengadget this week about Final Fantasy XV and its overt product placement. "Final Fantasy XV tricked me into buying Cup Noodles" through a "beautiful, devious combination of empathy and nostalgia," the author laments. The story content promoting the noodles seems like the sort of cheesy fake marketing you'd get out of a Mass Effect game -- I'm Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite X on the Citadel! -- only it's real.

Sally suggests that we're all still fighting the lockbox gambling battle -- and losing -- while the marketing departments of online game studios are already dreaming up their next trick, which might just be an old trick that never took hold in MMOs, at least not yet. "I think the next outrage is going to be ads and product placement," Sally writes. What do you think? Is in-game advertising the MMO genre's post-lockbox future? And if it is, do you prefer that to lockboxes?

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Massively Overthinking: The future of a global MMORPG industry

Massively OP Patron Duane's done the math on what is becoming, more and more, a truly global MMORPG industry. His question for Overthinking this week is a simple one:

"Devs in over 27 countries have released MMOs as of 2017. What country which is NOT your own would most excite you with a future MMO release?"

Now this is an unusual one! I posed his query to the team, and when we're done, we'd love to hear from the rest of you.

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Choose My Adventure: The most depressing road trip in Lord of the Rings Online

You know, if my first exposure to Elves had been in Lord of the Rings Online, I would probably think that they were the most depressing species in existence because they're basically prepping for the most depressing road trip ever. Maybe for all of the right reasons, but still.

For those of you who are even less aware of Middle-Earth as a setting than I, the gist of things is that the time of the Elves is nearly done, and they are soon to journey to the West. This is kind of a natural side-effect of the whole to-do about the eponymous Rings, where the Elves can't stick around without them; I'm not entirely clear on the details, there, but the short version is that this is the close of a cycle for the entirety of the race.

So most of your early stuff is based around the fact that the Elves are not, in fact, going out to party and enjoy themselves while Sauron is on the march. Instead, it's all about preparing for the most depressing road trip of all time.

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Perfect Ten: The MMOs with the most unclear futures in 2017

A little while back, I took a look at the healthiest games in the MMO space at this time. That was a nice, uplifting list, wasn't it? And all of those titles continue to do just fine, even if one or two might have had a few bits of shocking news along the way.

Unfortunately, this is not an industry in which health is assured. Games can be high-quality and beloved, but they can still be shut down by outside forces. And that's not counting games that just come out in the wrong time period or launch in an unrecoverable state.

That may sound grim, but we're already staring at the first two shutdowns of 2017 in the near future, and both of the titles being killed are surprises. One of them might have wound up on this list if it weren't being shut down, but at this point, it is. So let's look at the MMOs with the most unclear futures and start hoping for the best.

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The Daily Grind: Which MMO is doing the worst job of pretending it's in beta?

I respect the fact that Revelation Online is in beta right now. It's closed testing and there's going to be a character wipe. I respect that a lot. That's a pretty significant difference from, say, H1Z1, which has been asking for money for quite some time now if you want to play the game and functions as a live game, but still technically squeaks into the "Early Access" wheelhouse.

Of course, it's not always cut-and-dried. Shroud of the Avatar is a game that many people point to as being functionally launched, but it's also a title that has been visibly in development and hasn't pretended otherwise at any point. It's been a little while since the game's final wipe, though, so you could argue that it really should have pushed that big red "Launch" button then rather than several months later.

And let's not get into the many, many free-to-play games which are in open testing for a year or more while claiming to be in beta, despite the lack of any sort of wipe. So what do you think, dear readers? Which MMO is doing the worst job of pretending it's in beta?

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Global Chat: Elder Scrolls Online renaissance

As I peruse a hundred or so community blog posts every day, it's fascinating to me to see what games the MMO blogosphere as a whole is playing and discussing. We sometimes end up flocking to certain titles based on recent announcements or because others are talking them up pretty heavily.

One game that's been getting a lot of mentions on blogs lately is Elder Scrolls Online, with players generally enthusiastic about how it's shaped up into a pretty decent MMO. "It's a really solid game that’s much better than the game that launched," writes Occasional Hero. "Visually, I would probably rank it second behind Black Desert Online for the best-looking MMORPG out there," touts Endgame Variable.

Elder Scrolls Online not your thing? No worries; we have articles covering The Secret World, LOTRO, RIFT, and more in today's community blog roundup!

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The Daily Grind: Are contemporary settings underutilized in MMOs?

We all know that fantasy is by far the most popular setting for MMORPGs -- but what is the least? While not completely unrepresented in the genre, the contemporary setting seems to be on the low end.

Maybe it is because we want to be transported to a far-away world, not invited to a place that's practically next door. Perhaps it's just more difficult to figure out how to meld MMO mechanics with cell phones, the internet, and drive-thru Starbucks. But it can and has been done, most notably in The Secret World and now in the upcoming Identity.

What do you think? Are contemporary settings underutilized in MMOs? Could they bring something new and interesting to the table? What would get you to play in such a game world?

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Massively OP Podcast Episode 100: The nesting instinct in Elder Scrolls Online

Grab a glass of bubbly and celebrate with us: Today the Massively OP Podcast turns 100... 100 episodes, that is. For this grand event, Larry's prepared a robust review of Elder Scrolls Online's housing and Justin's brushed off his tap-dancing skills. Also, the two review some of the most far-fetched MMO news from this past week... and boy, did it get nutty.

It’s the Massively OP Podcast, an action-packed hour of news, tales, opinions, and gamer emails! And remember, if you’d like to send in your own letter to the show, use the “Tips” button in the top-right corner of the site to do so.

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MMO lockboxes, keys, and booster packs: Gambling or gaming?

Lockboxes have become a hot topic over the last couple of years. Last month, both our writers and readers crowned SWTOR worst business model of the year in part over its lockbox shenanigans. And several business model and lockbox-related articles made it into our list of most-commented-on articles of the year, including the Daily Grind on lockboxes and gambling.

So where do we draw the line between gambling and hobby gaming? Why are lockboxes acceptable? Are they really something MMO developers should continue to use in order to monetize their games?

I've done some research and even gotten some expert legal opinions about this based on American law (and some international), and I can't say I'm entirely happy about my results.
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