Most MMORPGs have the core sandbox problem: Whoever gets there first, controls all the toys and has the power to drive everyone else away. Even in a themepark, the “richest” players, whether they control the gold or the dungeons or the gear or the PvP, eventually help kill the game.
That’s the subject of a Raph Koster blog that recently popped back up on my radar. Koster, known for ecosystem-oriented virtual world MMOs like Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, is subtly making the case for MMOs that end, even if that end starts a new beginning. It’ll sound familiar to A Tale In The Desert players, surely, or anybody watching Koster’s latest MMO, Crowfall.
In the service of his argument, he references a blog post about the age of the world’s best tennis players, which just keeps rising. Is it because the olds are innately better at tennis? Nope. It’s because the “winners” are entrenched in a rich-get-richer situation that ensures “the typical person in the system ends up below average.” The more the winners win, the more money they have to ensure they win more, whether that’s with better coaches, better equipment, better medical treatment, or just plain more time to train, which makes it progressively more expensive (on all fronts) for newcomers to compete… until the newbies stop trying and the olds start retiring.
And then? The whole system collapses.
Think of all the wacky things devs have said in public in front of gamers and journalists this year.
Now imagine what gets said behind closed doors!
For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I’ve asked our staff to select the best (and worst) developer quotes from the year and reflect on what we’ve learned from them. Let’s dig in – we’ve got some whoppers.
On this week’s show, Justin and Bree get crazy into minimaps, probably more than you’ve ever heard a podcast talk about the subject. Trust us, it’s a good thing. As the year races to a close, there’s a lot to talk about with new patches, land for sale, the cost of making games, and more!
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.
Listen to the show right now:
All of this talk about the price of making games and the price of playing games thanks to Star Wars: Battlefront II has meant getting a pretty decent peek behind the curtain. Case in point: a lengthy discussion and explanation by Raph Koster about how expensive games really are. While Koster outright says that it’s wrong to say games are “too expensive to make,” he also points out that it’s undeniable that costs on making a game have risen hugely while box price has proportionally fallen. And as he points out, that’s because there’s no real market for second best.
The key thing to understand is that the public doesn’t buy B games. A game with stellar gameplay and less than state of the art graphics is generally simply left on the shelf. Yes, indie games with distinctive art have managed to break through so everyone will cite counterexamples, but looked at statistically, it’s something like 99.9% don’t.
Don’t ever test Raph Koster on MMORPG history, because you’ll probably lose.
The Star Wars Galaxies and Crowfall designer challenged a recent Rolling Stone article and a resulting Reddit thread on its portrayal of World of Warcraft back in its earliest days as the community prepares for WoW Classic. In particular, Koster takes umbrage with the “minimal storytelling” that the piece attributes to the vanilla game.
“[World of Warcraft] launched with probably literally 100x the story of any preceding MMO ever,” Koster said on Twitter. “Helped, no doubt, by spending a minimum of 4x the budget of any other MMO except Sims Online. Anyway, it’s just funny to read an argument that the great STRENGTHS of WoW at launch were its weaknesses.”
Crowfall isn’t content to make gathering as dull and repetitive as in other MMOs, which is why the team is putting great stock in its so-called “action harvesting.” This system has come under further refinement following its introduction a few weeks back, and the devs were on hand this week to demonstrate why you’ll need to be on your toes when you’re cutting down that tree or scrounging through that bush.
One of these refinements is the addition of “energetic harvesting,” a skill that uses the new action pips to trigger buffs during the process. Players were also shown several of the optional disciplines that a character can equip, such as Logger, Quarryman, Lookout, Hoarder, and Survivalist.
ArtCraft informed the community yesterday that it has started to send out instructions for guilds to reserve their names. “Hey, Crowfall Kickstarter backers: Watch your inbox for guild name reservation info. Newer backers can reserve guild names in November,” the studio posted.
It is kind of impossible to stroll around the MMO blogging community as of late and not trip and fall into a pool of Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire
impressions and opinions. So why not dive in and see what lies under the surface of these experiences?
GamingSF suffered from technical issues that kept him from getting into the expansion initially, but when he did, he recognized that it had some “really nice features.” Why I Game concurs with this sentiment, noting that there are “a lot more nods to exploration this time around.”
“Story is okay, nothing amazing, some funny bits help, and I find it gets better as it progresses onward,” ECTmmo.com wrote. “The actual places you get to travel to and explore in this expansion are what makes it shine, well, that and the mounts.”
We’ve got even more Path of Fire impressions after the break, as well as a look at Star Trek Online, Elite Dangerous, and Ultima Online!
The man who pretty much wrote the book on many MMORPG systems shared another piece of keen insight about a pitfall in many competitive systems. In a short blog post, veteran MMO designer Raph Koster explains why competitive structures end up stagnating and faltering as “winners” gain rewards, become untouchable, and gradually choke out any competition and growth.
“Systems that don’t destroy their kings on a regular basis end up destroying the kings and the citizenry. And life under a king is never advantageous to the citizens, either,” he writes. “This is game design: set up your system to cause ferment, not stability and inevitability.”
Perhaps this is why Koster was attracted to the Crowfall project, as this PvP-centric MMO is devoted to knocking over the board and resetting its pieces on a regular basis.
Game Designer Raph Koster continues to ponder the significance of Ultima Online on this, the 20th anniversary of the MMORPG’s historic release. In a recent blog post, he answers a question from a fan who asked how UO pushed the industry forward.
To address this, Koster takes readers back to 1995, when the internet was mostly accessed over slow dial-up modems and the gaming landscape was much more different than it is today. After outlining a brief history of MMOs to that point, he lists several groundbreaking features that Ultima Online attempted, including:
- “Pure scale” with up to 2,500 players in the world at once
- Dyeable gear
- A world simulation that was varied in behavior
- A massively interactive world
- Widespread player killing, housing, and shopkeeping
- An actively managed community
- A flat monthly fee to subscribe
- A world where you could live and not just fight
Just about 20 years ago, my boyfriend and I were wandering through Media Play (heh) when he picked up this box for some new online subscription video game with a cheesy Hildebrandt cover. I was skeptical. He bought it anyway. The next morning, after I’d played all night and totally bogarted his new game, we figured we should probably get a second account. And so we did, in spite of being clueless teenagers who could barely afford one sub, let alone two.
That game was Ultima Online, and it’s the game that birthed the term MMORPG and quite literally dragged me into the realm of virtual worlds. Without it, I wouldn’t be right here where I am talking to you today, having married that dude in the interim. And as of yesterday, that game is 20 years old.
Last autumn, when the game was turning 19, I did a fairly in-depth video on the coolest parts of UO, the parts you can still play today, as I do frequently dive back in and am playing this month too! It’s Massively OP’s best-performing video to date, proving that the game is very much not dead and done. Pretty much everything in the video is still accurate, except for the part on the business model (spoiler: UO is kinda going free-to-play), so I’m going to include it below, but then I’ll recap some of the important bits from the last year and answer a few questions anybody reading is sure to have.
I would like to say that when I was a kid playing my first MMORPGs, I was impervious to the grind, that I embraced taking many months to level a skill or hit a level cap. But that would be a lie. I stuck a rock on my keyboard to AFK macro overnight in Ultima Online, and a friend of mine would log into my EverQuest account sometimes while I slept to catch me up in levels. I hated it. I have always hated it. Oh, I’d spend hours per day in those early games, but I wanted to chill with friends, make stuff, run dungeons with people without worrying about level discrepancies and gear and all the obnoxious mechanics designed so transparently to slow me down and make me pay to grind. And I’ve felt this way for 20 years.
This is why a recent tweet of Raph Koster’s, quoting Elder Scrolls Online’s Matt Firor, resonated with me:
“Removing levels as a gameplay factor was the best decision for retention ever made in Elder Scrolls Online.” -Matt Firor
It’s affirmation that I’m not alone: A huge portion of the MMORPG playerbase will pay for content that pushes us together by invalidating level grinds rather than keeps us apart. Is it not time? Can we just be done with the old canard that people “need” leveling make-work to feel achievement or investment in a game, when metrics prove otherwise? Should MMOs get rid of levels?
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.
MMORPG designer Raph Koster has a fun piece out today, ostensibly about what he’s dubbing “consent systems” in multiplayer games that include roleplaying — the rules that govern free-form roleplaying, like who gets to do what to other characters and whether consent is necessary. As most roleplayers surely know, it’s generally considered inappropriate to act something out on another character without consent. You can shoot a gun at someone, but it’s up to that someone to decide whether she’s been shot or dodges out of the way. You open your arms to try to hug someone, but you never treat the response to your action as a foregone conclusion — you wait for the recipient to acknowledge and respond. You attempt, but you never assume success.
The part that’s of interest to MMORPG players specifically is where Koster talks about formal emote systems in MMOs and how they can break that roleplayer’s consent code. For example, he criticizes World of Warcraft’s MUD-inspired emote list, which include things like massaging someone’s shoulders and slapping another player — none of which leaves open a response from the recipient.
Why does World of Warcraft go that route, eschewing the lessons learned from MUDs and MUSHes? Part of it’s down to improved graphics, specifically the desire to animate emotes.