Legacy, vanilla, classic, progression – call them what you like, but alternative server rulesets, particularly of the nostalgia-driven kind, are all the rage in 2018. Just since the dawn of the new year, we’ve gotten a new server type for Age of Conan, with RIFT’s on the way – not to mention World of Warcraft’s looming in our future. And those are just the new ones! Games like RuneScape, EverQuest II, and Ultima Online already run similar servers.
That said, does every MMORPG need one? Aren’t some MMORPGs already in pretty good shape without needing a spin-off for nostalgia’s sake? Is it in every MMO’s best interests to prioritize, on some level, the very older ideas it intentionally left behind? That’s the question I’ve posed to the writers this week: Are there any MMORPGs that should stay far, far away from legacy servers, and if so, why?
Here is some nightmare fuel for gamers imagining the future of the industry. How about an artificial intelligence that deliberately manipulates and messes with players in games to drive revenue growth?
Back in January, a leaked and unconfirmed (and possibly fake) slide show from Data Broker LLC outlined a draft of something called “online game revenue models with AI.” In it, an AI was described that manipulated players’ gameplay experience to drive them toward more microtransactions. Even worse, it uses real-world information about you to drive this process.
“We have proven that allowing the AI to alter a player’s game as a whole (social engineering),” the slide show appears to say, “and alter the player’s individual gameplay experience (psychological manipulation tactics) causes a consistent and dramatic increase recurrent revenue streams.”
Imagine that one day you wake up, stumble to your computer, and check in on the morning news. Among the various tidbits is a rather surprising notice of a brand-new MMORPG that is not only in the works, but is on the verge of beta testing right the heck now. Would that be enough of a shock to wipe away any vestiges of sleep and generate immediate interest in this title?
For some players during a very short period in 2001, it definitely was.
The game in question is Fallen Age, an isometric MMO that made headlines by announcing its presence in one breath and imminent beta testing in the next. However, Netamin Communication’s game couldn’t quite live up to that promise, and by the end of the year, it had vanished almost as quickly as it arrived. So what was this game and what exactly happened?
Probably my favorite screenshot in an MMO is the one I took back in 2003 or so, when my Star Wars Galaxies character was selling handmade spice out of her backpack one by one, before anyone I knew even had factories. After buying a few Neutron Pixies from me, one of my customers whispered to me some advice. “You’re kinda small and adorable for a drug dealer,” he noted. “You may want to get a scar or something for the next transaction with someone.”
That conversation popped into my head this week when I read about the ESRB’s guidelines on the depiction of narcotics in video games, which have apparently been reinforced by a recent study on top-selling console games that found plenty include various drugs as boosters, some in combination with other drugs, some without any associated side-effects. SWG, of course, had really nasty side-effects, a long-lasting downer that often made the spices not worth using outside of critical fights or duels, but still, the whole thing was still very cartoony. With or without my scar.
But what about other MMOs? I can think of only a handful of true MMORPGs that touch this sort of mechanic; most just seem to skirt the question altogether, no doubt to avoid that ESRB M sticker. You guys can probably think of more examples. Which MMOs have “drugs,” did you think they were problematic, and have you ever taken drugs in an MMORPG?
I recently read a wild argument based on unsubstantiated rumor
that Star War: The Old Republic
is nearing its end of life, that BioWare
is tired of it and is considering shutting it down. It’s just one among many I’ve read lately, and I don’t believe they are right. Instead, some appear to be repeating the same tired premise: “I don’t like it, and therefore no one should like it.”
Now, I don’t like many games, but I understand the merits and positive qualities of even some of the oldest, most shop-worn MMORPGs. First-person shooters make me disoriented because of the camera placement, but that doesn’t make them bad. In fact, one of my favorite series of games, Bioshock, was all told in first-person, but that didn’t affect the quality of the game. (Of course, I had to play it in super-easy mode just so that I could get through it without getting sick, but that’s beside the point.)
So in that vein, I would like to present my argument for why I believe the rumormongers are wrong about SWTOR.
How much is too much?
To some, that might seem like a reasonable question. But I knew. I knew. There is no such thing as too much!
There was a question raised on Massively OP this past week about in-game hoarding. I answered… boy did I answer. I kept answering. It was just like my virtual bags: I filled the space to overflowing. And I just kept going. And now, it’s even spilling over to The Soapbox! It’s not my fault games make cool things I like and want to keep, or make getting stuff so much fun (searching through every box and barrel, anyone?). But there is much more to it than that. Yes, I admit I am a serial hoarder. But I am also an unrepentant hoarder! It’s not a problem. Others may think I have a problem.
I see it as item security.
Ever pause during your day and find yourself wondering, “Whatever happened to that game?” With hundreds upon hundreds of online titles these days, it’s surprisingly easy for MMOs to fall through the cracks and become buried as more aggressive or active games take the spotlight.
Well, every so often we here at Massively Overpowered find ourselves curious what has transpired with certain MMOs that we haven’t heard from in quite a while. Have we missed the action and notices? Has the game gone into stealth maintenance mode? What’s the deal? What has it been up to lately?
That’s when we put on our detective hats and go sleuthing. Today we look at what has been going on with Ascent: the Space Game, Aura Kingdom, and Fragmented.
By coincidence, two articles in my feeds this past week both centered on video game hoarding – not hoarding the actual games but hoarding stuff inside of them. Blizzard Watch posted a piece on what makes people stop hoarding things like currency in Blizzard’s games, while Gamasutra published an article about how game designers can stop turning us into hoarders in the first place.
For this week’s Overthinking, I thought it would be constructive for the staff and readers to reflect on hoarding in MMOs specifically. Do you hoard, and if so, is it primarily consumables? Currencies? Event items? Something else? Do you think it’s a problem, or only when it’s encouraged as part of a microtransaction loop that ends with your buying more storage?
If you have an exceptional memory, you might recall that a couple of months ago, Crowfall and Star Wars Galaxies designer Raph Koster wrote up a blog post on the cost of making games. The MMO expert followed that up this week with a much, much more detailed presentation that attempts to show hard data to back up his claims.
Koster said that he used industry contacts and other research to assemble data from over 250 games made from 1985 to today that shows the development cost minus the money spent on marketing. He even goes so far as to break down the cost of dollars per developed byte of information, which is where he sees costs for game falling. He said that when you look at it this way, players are getting a “deal” for games these days.
“Lots of people have made the observation that in terms of raw purchasing power, players pay around half of what they used to in the ’80s,” he notes.
The first MMORPG I ever played had a camping skill. You chopped down some wood for kindling, clicked to build a fire, and then did exactly two things with it: cook (useless) food and log out instantly. What a waste of a skill. Five points if you can tell me which MMO that was!
So it’s safe to say that camping in video games has come an incredibly long way from then, all the way to the awesome system that just debuted in Black Desert, but even so, most MMOs still don’t have camps at all, which seems bizarre to me. Justin and I were reminiscing on the podcast last week about Star Wars Galaxies, whose camping system was fantastic for getting people to explore and organically stop murder-hoboing everything in sight to take a breather, entertain, heal, and chat. Sure, we didn’t plop down tents every minute, but they made for great break points.
What would you say is the best camping system in an MMO, and how does it compare to the best camping systems in non-MMO games?
A comment on Reddit about the current size and viability of Kritika Online got me thinking about MMO playerbases in general lately. We all know that there’s a stigma attached to little games; the big games with big servers and millions of players feel safer, and nowadays people just assume a small MMO has one foot in the grave. But it isn’t always true. We could also rattle off some smaller MMOs that seem to be moving along just fine, with bills paid. Sure, they’d like to be bigger, but they’re holding steady and know how to work the playerbase they do have rather than constantly alienate their current customers in search of new customers. And some MMO gamers actually prefer those sorts of titles. After all, if the game has just a few thousand people, it’s much easier to get to know a large slice of them, plus have your voice heard by the developers and actually influence the gameworld.
For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I’ve asked the writers to reflect on the smallest MMOs they have played, and then consider how big an MMO has to be in terms of playerbase that they’d consider playing it now. What’s the smallest MMO you’re willing to play, and why?
Half an eternity ago, my merry band of MMO PvPers and raiders ran headlong into a gang of roleplayers, and it changed my guild forever. I’ve reminisced before about some of my favorite roleplaying moments in MMOs, many of them in City of Heroes and Star Wars Galaxies, games where the play-your-way pace of the game led to amazing storytelling and impromptu encounters, the kind that make you research obscure planet names, spend hours on the perfect costume, and accidentally stay up until 4 in the morning… typing.
But in the post-SWG, post-City of Heroes era, I dropped out of roleplaying as a core activity. I’m not going to be that jerk on the RP server talking about sportsball, mind you, and I’ll still make sure my toons have appropriate names and sufficient backstory, but I don’t hang out in taverns waiting for something interesting to happen nowadays. And honestly, I’m not entirely sure which MMO would be the ideal home for a roleplayer anyway.
You tell me – what’s the best MMO to roleplay in as of 2018?
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.