nbr-tdg

The Daily Grind: Which MMORPGs will make to to 20 years?

Unless it mysteriously shutters between now and Monday, Ultima Online is turning 20 next week. Our Game Archaeologist will surely object to an assertion that UO is the first MMORPG to turn 20, but even if you do count pre-MMORPG titles as MMOs or include non-continuous or non-graphical games, UO is still among the very few MMOs to get there alive.

I’ve started thinking about numbers like that in light of Black Desert studio Pearl Abyss’ assertion a few weeks back that online PC games and MMOs have “an extremely long life cycle” on average between 10 and 11 years, implying that PA intends to support its games with those lifespans in mind.

There are a few MMOs coming up on 20 years now other than UO, including classic EverQuest. Alas, others, like Asheron’s Call, were sunsetted before they got close. Consider the MMOs you’re playing now: Which of those MMORPGs have a hope of making it to 20 years?

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The Daily Grind: What one lesson do you wish MMO developers would learn?

MMORPG veteran Raph Koster went on a glorious Twitter tear last week, and I’m sure some of you can relate. In response to a thinkpiece on augmented reality, Koster argues that AR developers are worried about the wrong things – they’re worried about the tech and not putting sufficient effort or research into social systems.

“The essay skates over this in one paragraph saying, ‘It’s sort of like an MMO,’ but that’s wrong. It is an MMO, in every single way. Make no mistake, a mirror world is just an MMO server with phones as avatars. That means every social pattern you ever saw in an MMO will be present, from the WoW plagues to the client hacks to the parties killing monsters to debates over who owns what slice of virtual land to yes, harassment reporting and godlike gamemasters who effectively police the space with panopticon level awareness of history. Those servers will swallow activity, not just point clouds, to a degree beyond what people fear now with stuff like maps apps tracking your location.”

“Frankly, just about no AR people I have met grasp that this is what they are building,” he concludes, suggesting it’s a “terrifying” notion that developers aren’t learning from the lessons taught by games like “Habitat, LambdaMOO, Ultima Online, EVE Online, Second Life, [and] Habbo Hotel,” which already laid the groundwork for how virtual worlds work (and don’t) when players run amok.

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The Daily Grind: Do you feel crowdfunded MMOs ‘owe’ you something?

My husband and I were chatting about the whole Chris-Roberts-is-fed-up-with-trolls-and-date-estimates-that-everyone-knows-aren’t-going-to-stick thing from last week when he said something that struck me. “It reminds me of how people harangue George R. R. Martin (of Game of Thrones fame) about his next book,” he observed. “They believe he owes them something for being his loyal fans,” which you’ll recall once prompted famed author Neil Gaiman to declare, “George Martin is not your bitch.”

The difference, of course, is that George R. R. Martin can do whatever the heck he wants while he rolls around in his well-earned piles of money because his books aren’t crowdfunded. He quite literally doesn’t owe us anything, even if people who’ve been his fans for multiple decades might feel otherwise.

Crowfunded MMOs like Star Citizen aren’t quite in that position. Technically, you knew when your credit card number hit the screen that yours was a donation toward an idea. Some of the games we Kickstart? They fail. Or they drift in limbo. Or they don’t meet the vision. They aren’t all Path of Exile and Elite Dangerous is what I’m saying. But when those campaigns masquerade as pre-orders, people can be left with the idea that, well, they’re owed what they think they paid for.

Do you feel the MMO you’ve crowdfunded owe you something? Or are you content knowing you donated toward a vision of a better genre?

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The Daily Grind: Are MMO lockboxes actually even worse than gambling?

MMO blogger Ethan “Isarii” Macfie made an interesting point in one of his recent Critical Writ videos that I think deserves some amplification and debate. He argues that lockboxes are fairly compared to gambling — but in fact, they’re far worse.

In a traditional gambling setup, he notes, you might have 99 losers in a group of 100. The payment provided by the losers literally pays the winners (as well as pays for the infrastructure behind the casino). Without the losers’ cash, the casinos would have nothing to give to the winners – the risk is the only thing the casinos have to trade on.

In video gaming, however, that’s not how it works. A video game company is capable of selling gameplay as a product. There’s no fundamental scarcity of pixels in a digital game, and the profits from lockboxes aren’t going back to the winners in any sort of tangible way. Lockboxes merely allow the studio to create losers from pure greed. As he puts it, “They choose to introduce these goods in a way that creates losers out of their customers who don’t get what they want and have to take more chances possibly still not getting what they want to really purchase what they’re trying to purchase.”

Do you agree with Isarii? Is he right that MMO lockboxes are even worse than gambling?

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The Daily Grind: Why are you not into virtual reality?

Massively OP reader and commenter Sally Bowls pointed us to a brief post on Axios in which a VR consultant and former Oculus employee opines on why VR isn’t catching on as well as you’d expect, and the reason isn’t money. In fact, she suggests the reason is that consumers are simply too addicted to other compelling content — specifically, smartphones and social media. While gaming and education are the platform’s chief uses, most people just don’t want to put down their damn phones long enough to become engrossed by something that takes up their full physical and mental attention.

“[VR] has to be a really compelling reason to get you to give up all that,” she explained at the Mobile Future Forward conference last week. “There aren’t just a ton of those reasons just yet.”

MOP’s audience is chiefly MMO gamers who skew toward virtual worlds already, so maybe we’re not a perfect test case, but I still wondered whether the consultant is right. If you’re not into VR, why not, specifically? Is it, as suggested, that you’d just rather be doing something more connected but also more popcorny through lighter-weight technology altogether?

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The Daily Grind: When was the last time you played an MMO ‘wrong’?

Over the weekend, MMO blogger and Massively OP frequenter Wolfyseyes posted what I thought was a fantastic piece on playing MMOs “wrong.” Eschewing other people’s generic advice and cookie cutter builds, he found, was the best decision he could have made in the service of actually liking his game of choice.

“I elected to just play Guild Wars 2 ‘wrong,'” he wrote. “And it’s brought me more enjoyment than any of the previous attempts I’ve made.”

And before you freak out, by “wrong” he doesn’t mean “incompetently like a drunk hippo in tap shoes,” just skipping min-maxing in a game where it’s truly not necessary for the majority of the content, building out his character in a way that’s actually fun for him and still results in winning for him and his team. Sandbox fans and altoholics in particular are probably nodding along in understanding already.

When was the last time you played an MMO “wrong”? Did it generate joy for you in an MMO?

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The Daily Grind: Which MMO studio’s finances worry you the most right now?

During this week’s MOP podcast, Justin and I remarked on Funcom’s spectacular 2017 financial showing, particularly in light of the fact that its numbers were so poor back in 2015 that it was asking creditors to defer its debts. Most of us didn’t really think the company would make it through way back then, but here we are — it came up with some hits just in time.

That got me thinking about other MMO companies and how they’ve fared. Trion, for example, just faced down a seemingly malicious and misleading rumor that it was in financial trouble. Daybreak was once in such dire straits that it was sold to an investment company and downsized considerably in terms of staffing and new game production, though now it seems H1Z1 is keeping it all afloat.

Consider the whole field of studios we watch around here: Which MMO studio’s finances worry you the most right now?

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The Daily Grind: Which MMORPG is the worst at balancing difficulty?

Justin’s LOTRO Legendarium article on whether or not Mordor is too difficult struck a chord wth me. “I do not envy devs and their monumental task of creating world content that is somewhat balanced for players of varying skill and gear levels,” he wrote. “Make it too easy, and players get apathetic and drift away from your game. Make it too hard, and players pound their keyboards and ragequit.”

That’s a balance many MMORPGs have struggled with over the years as new patches are rolled out, from World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm to Guild Wars 2’s Heart of Thorns, and as Justin argues, some games take “wild swings” from too hard to too easy and leave us frustrated and hunting for a new online home.

Set aside the specific’s of the LOTRO issue for now and consider the question more broadly: Which MMORPG is the worst at balancing difficulty — and why?

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The Daily Grind: What MMOs do you wish would come to Steam?

I was poking through my Steam library this weekend hunting for an old game I wanted to install to see whether it still worked when I noticed something that’s never struck me before: Most of my Steam games are not MMOs, even if I count orbiting genres (like survivalboxes) in with them. In fact, I realized some very prominent games (like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2) as well as some littler, older titles I play (like Ultima Online) have never migrated to the platform. Which is mildly annoying as it would be nice to see things like play tracking, achievements, and friends lists in the platform where I store all my games (you know, that I buy and don’t play).

What other MMOs What MMOs do you wish would come to Steam?

Bonus question: What percentage of your Steam library is MMOs?

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The Daily Grind: What wishful-thinking PAX West MMORPG announcement would blow you away?

Massively OP’s MJ Guthrie is at PAX West (formerly known as PAX Prime, a much catchier name if you ask me!) for us this weekend as it kicks off today, accompanied by a huge roster of stuff to see, from Ashes of Creation and Ship of Heroes to Chronicles of Elyria and Dual Universe — and a dozen more. She might get to eat lunch, but she will definitely not get to sit down!

The good news is that the con is gearing up for a much better showing for MMORPGs than we’ve had in the past two or three years, something that ought to fill you with cheer. On the other hand, what I’d like above all else is to be getting major MMORPG announcements — new AAAs, new expansions — in addition to these solid in-progress games that actually have the PR prowess and cash to show up (which is good too!). It’s a changing landscape out there, folks!

What PAX West announcement would blow you away? What would you most want to see? And of the games in attendance, what do you most want us to see and ask about for you?

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The Daily Grind: What do you actually expect to get out of MMORPG lockboxes?

MMO blogger Bhagpuss has an intriguing multi-angle post out this week criticizing, rightly in my mind, Guild Wars 2’s lockboxes, but not the way you’re thinking. See, unlike a lot of MMO players who read blogs and think about the way our games are put together, he says he doesn’t mind lockboxes, at least the kind you needn’t pay to open. He even likes RNG. What annoys him is that the game’s cash-shop lockboxes are usually crap, such that the freebie ones he gets are so unappealing that he can’t even imagine how anyone feels compelled to buy keys.

“The only remotely interesting thing I got was a dye,” he laments. “Everything else was embarrassingly dull. […] I’d have thought it might be worth rigging the odds on these infrequent freebies so that everyone gets at least a halfway decent item. The dye would do it. A mini, perhaps. Nothing amazing, just not a Bank Express and a 30 minute booster.”

I thought his article would prove a fun jumping off point for today’s Daily Grind. What do you actually expect out of a paid lockbox in an MMO? Are there MMOs whose lockboxes are so stingy that you just skip ’em entirely?

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The Daily Grind: Will Blizzard announce the next World of Warcraft expansion at BlizzCon 2017?

With World of Warcraft’s 7.3 Shadows of Argus mega-patch launching next week, speculation in the community has turned once again to what comes after Argus. WoW-watchers are wondering about the planned timeline since Blizzard has actually kept up the post-Legion pace it promised — much to my surprise. It certainly looks plausible that 7.35 will land later in 2017, that Blizzard could use BlizzCon to reveal the next expansion on its own turf, that testing could begin early in 2018, and that it could launch as early as next summer, given the game’s current pacing.

Where do you stand? Will Blizzard announce the next World of Warcraft expansion at BlizzCon 2017?

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The Daily Grind: Do MMORPG studios worry too much about player retention?

Back in March, we used a Richard Bartle blog post to discuss retention in MMOs and how developers could up their stickiness factor. But in rereading it, I notice that most of us took as a given that MMOs want to increase their retention in the first place. And I’m not so sure they do anymore.

What studios actually want is to make money. For subscription games, sure, retention is equivalent to direct and obvious money in the bank. But for free-to-play and buy-to-play games, it’s not quite so direct. Presumably, roping players in, bringing them back again and again and keeping them playing for years, increases the likelihood that they will buy something. But instead of spending resources trying to make that happen in MMOs, why not just spend resources on, say, paid DLC and expansions, which you know a sizable number of people will buy flat out? And who cares if they leave in between as long as you got their money?

Are we not already seeing that exact model for non-subscription MMOs? Do MMORPG devs worry too much about player retention?

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