the daily grind

No, it’s not a slow news day; it’s just The Daily Grind, a long-running morning feature in which the Massively Overpowered writers pose gaming-related questions to the MMORPG community. [Follow this feature’s RSS feed]

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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The Daily Grind: Do you expect MMO expansions to include new classes, or is a new spec good enough?

Back when Guild Wars 2’s Path of Fire was announced, a number of our commenters sparred over whether or not the game’s elite specs should more properly be considered and counted new classes. Some people argued that they were literally new classes; others maintained that the amount of class content in the specs, when taken together, surpassed merely adding a new class and a few new skills for existing classes. I tend to sit in the camp that says they’re not classes or the equivalent of classes, and while I’d personally rather have a new class and an excuse to roll a new toon, specs might be better anyway because they’re content for everybody.

It was a lively debate, one that suggested to me that an awful lot of us still expect new classes from MMORPG expansions. And now that we’ve had a weekend with Path of Fire’s elite specs, this seems a good time to ask: Is it true? Do you expect MMO expansion to include new classes? Where do you stand on things like “elite specs” in lieu of a new class to roll?

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The Daily Grind: What are you proud of accomplishing in an MMO?

Sometimes I wonder if my list of accomplishments in the games that I’ve played is worth anything. I certainly did not have multiple 75s in Final Fantasy XI before I stopped playing (I now have multiple classes at 99, but it’s a bit different now), and I was not exactly a top player in Guild Wars. I’ve never been world first at anything, or server first. At best, I’m friend group first.

However, I am proud of myself for the resources I have on offer in games like Final Fantasy XIV. I’m proud that I split the difference between content, making money, and social ventures. I’ve always been proud of my time spent raiding at the forefront of progression for a time in World of Warcraft, not because I want to do that ever again but because I proved that I could.

And I think that’s some of the nature of being proud about things like that, picking out what matters to us even if we realize it’s not actually the highest accomplishment. So what about you, dear readers? What are you proud of accomplishing in an MMO? Do you think of it as a mark of distinction, or is it just an accomplishment that matters to you?

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The Daily Grind: What’s a rite of passage in your MMO?

Lately I’ve been playing a new Hobbit Hunter in Lord of the Rings Online, which has the added benefit of bringing me back to the Shire and all of its silly and frivolous quests. Of course, it also means that I’ve got to do the whole pie running chain again.

If you’re not familiar with that, there comes a point where a particular Hobbit tasks you with retrieving 12 pies from all over the zone. You have to get them and then run them back (on foot, no less) without being spotted by “hungry Hobbits.” It’s lengthy and kind of annoying, which has made this quest a rite of passage for players over the years. Plus, it gives everyone something in common about which to complain.

So I’m curious: What’s a rite of passage in your MMO? What must everyone go through sooner or later that’s a bit odious but ends up being a weird point of pride when completed?

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The Daily Grind: What MMO would you like to see dump its branding or IP?

On Tuesday, Daybreak formally announced that the neglected PvE half of H1Z1, Just Survive, would be shedding its H1Z1 branding once and for all. The reveal couldn’t help but remind me of the way Daybreak did the same thing for Landmark, deleting the “EverQuest Next” and then the EverQuest IP altogether from the title and marketing before ultimately scrapping the entire game not long after launch.

I don’t think Just Survive is necessarily doomed without the branding, however. In fact, I can think of several MMOs that I wish could have dumped their IPs or changed their names to rid themselves of the proverbial albatross ’round their necks. Star Wars Galaxies leaps immediately to mind.

What MMO would you like to see dump its branding or IP?

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The Daily Grind: Do you like being lost in MMOs?

In Final Fantasy XI, my first MMO, maps were few and far between, often blindingly unclear, and offered as many opportunities to be hopelessly lost as they did for finding your way. Pretty much nothing important was marked on the map even if you had one. Being lost was the default state.

This is unusual now. City of Heroes and Guild Wars both surprised me by how resistant they were to letting me get lost, and World of Warcraft now makes it nigh-on impossible. And on some level, this is undeniably a good thing, because it means I spend less time trying to find where the Thing is and more time actually interacting with the Thing.

But then, some people really do prefer that sense of not knowing where the next objective might be. So today I ask, dear readers: do you like being lost in MMOs? Is part of the excitement of the genre for you when you don’t know where to go? Or do you consider better maps and more efficient guidance to be a boon to the genre?

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The Daily Grind: Which MMO class do you love to have at your back in dungeons?

We have all talked at length about which classes we prefer to play, but adventuring around in MMOs sometimes involves being with (gasp) other players, particularly in the more dangerous areas. Dungeons, I think they’re called?

I’ve always been glad to have support classes on my teams, even if it means a drop in DPS. I love it when a class can boost everyone else and help make things easier on the whole, because I know from playing them that they’re underappreciated for the good they really do.

So when you’re diving into an instance, which class do you always appreciate having on your team? Is there a particular brand of healer, buffer, tank, crowd controller, or damage dealer that puts you more at ease, knowing that you’ll be benefiting from a smoother run?

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The Daily Grind: Have you ever felt the need to cut back on your MMORPG playtime?

A couple of months ago, Lifehacker ran an article that might just save somebody: It’s titled How to Cut Back on Playing Video Games, presuming, of course, that you play so much that you’re finding your real life affected. Lifehacker recommends a bunch of methods for assessing whether you overplay and how to check it, including tracking your game time, picking less time-consuming or addicting games, ditching your hardcore gamer ego, and just watching other people play rather than engaging yourself.

Personally, I figured out I was spending too much time playing MMOs a long time ago when I started literally falling asleep on my keyboard and ultimately decided I liked sleep (and health and money, but honestly, mostly the sleep) better than raiding Sebilis for the hundredth time. I took a break for a while and came back to MMO gaming refreshed and with a new perspective on why I was playing, what I wanted to get out of it, and what I would and wouldn’t do during my precious free time.

Have you ever felt the need to cut back on your MMORPG playtime? How did you go about it, and did it work?

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The Daily Grind: Are you a fan of Guild Wars 2’s non-traditional mounts?

Mounts are the big new thing in Guild Wars 2’s Path of Fire expansion, and as I’ve previously mentioned, I was initially concerned about their inclusion, given that traditional mounts would seem to necessitate a major revision of the game’s foundation. But of course, the new mounts aren’t traditional mounts; they seem more like toys to help players navigate parts of the world, not a second set of legs with a speed buff. I was OK with that; I was expecting, welcoming, something mundane and non-game-breaking.

But then my experience with the raptor mount in this weekend’s preview event actually impressed me: The raptor is astonishingly well-animated and genuinely fun (at least for those who don’t get motion sick), way better than a dumb toy or gimmick. While originally I rolled my eyes at the idea of romping around Elona on a dino, I surprised myself by enjoying whipping out rapty.

That said, I saw a lot of commentary this weekend from people who weren’t impressed — indeed, who talked themselves out of preorders specifically because of the mounts. The things I loved — the animations, the non-mandatory “toy” feel — seem to be huge turnoffs for other folks who want something more like, well, WoW. Is that you? Are you disappointed in the way the mount system works, or are you a fan of Guild Wars 2’s non-traditional mounts?

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The Daily Grind: Which MMO has the most attractive cosmetic options?

There are a lot of games out there with really great cosmetic systems. But a great system in and of itself doesn’t mean that a game has great cosmetic options. The system in Secret World Legends sure does work well, but if you don’t like the game’s mostly real-world aesthetic, you are probably not going to like many of your outfit choices. For all the positives in Guild Wars 2‘s system, good luck finding something devoid of the armor pieces that some of our staff loathes with a passion. (Here’s a hint, it rhymes with “rutdrapes” and there are about a million pieces in that category.)

So today’s question isn’t about which MMO has the best actual system for cosmetic gear. Instead, it’s a question of which MMO has the best actual cosmetic gear. Even if the game itself would benefit from an entirely different cosmetic system (more dye channels, more costume options, any dye options whatsoever looking at you World of Warcraft), we’re asking you directly: Which MMO has the most attractive cosmetic options?

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The Daily Grind: Which style of MMO combat do you enjoy the most?

MMOs are nothing if not deeply invested in combat as a core system, and as such, developers have come up with every fighting style under the sun to keep players engaged. It always fascinates me how many different styles there are in online games and how they appeal to various players.

Me? I generally enjoy ranged combat with faster rather than slower attacks (instant is always preferred). If I have a pet or pets under my command, so much the better, and I don’t mind being given the ability to mess with enemy AI with stuns, confusion, and other crowd control techniques.

Which style of MMO combat do you enjoy the most? Are you a brute force melee fighter? A sneaky thief? A sparkly mage? A dual pistol marksman? A shapeshifting slasher?

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The Daily Grind: How long before an MMO or expansion launch do you want to know about it?

I admit to being worried about Guild Wars 2’s Path of Fire expansion release as the year wore on and we’d still heard nothing. While I tried to reassure myself that the devs were just holding onto as much as they could so as not to spoil the whole season, I also kept reflecting on the long period between Heart of Thorns’ announcement and launch — the better part of a year. Whereas with Path of Fire, we’re getting barely two months. Is that too short? Which one will turn out to be better for revenue?

That’s a question Gamasutra asked earlier this month too; game devs polled offered a number of factors that weigh into when release dates are announced, ranging from “when it’s done” and when it’s “shippable with only reasonable regrets” to when there’s “a big press opportunity” (like a convention) or “what other games are already set to release.”

Let’s poll the MMO audience: How long before an MMO or expansion launch do you want to know about it? What’s the “sweet spot” time frame for announcing an MMO release date?

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The Daily Grind: What’s your favorite MMO meme?

Despite its long-term status as a meme generation machine, World of Warcraft is actually a game. It’s just a game where some of its memes have become part of the general MMO landscape. Stuff like the JP Button from Final Fantasy XI never went beyond their games of origin. But they were still memes; I can tell people in Final Fantasy XIV that I’m doing Raubahn EX, and they know what I mean. Tell a former City of Heroes player to go and hunt, and they’ll know exactly what you mean.

Of course, sometimes the memes either wind up referencing a part of the game that’s less than fun or just flat-out wrong. And some of them just aren’t very funny (Leeroy Jenkins never made me even crack a smile). But of all these silly memes, dear readers, which one is closest to you? What’s your favorite MMO meme? And do the people you tend to play with still remember it?

Also, yes, CoH players, I know the formatting up there is wrong. You got my meaning.

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