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: Is inventory management a fundamental part of MMO gameplay?

Growing up mostly on consoles, inventory management was not a big part of gaming when I was younger. Downright irrelevant, even; the question was how many cottages I had on-hand in the original Final Fantasy, not whether or not I could fit them in my inventory. (Which makes sense, since by the time you’ve fit an entire cottage into your backpack you might as well be able to fit ninety-eight more.) But MMOs work on stricter requirements, and thus we have ongoing changes with games like Final Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft giving me more space even as they give me more stuff to manage.

The latest bit of inventory management hassle for Guild Wars 2, though, makes me wonder if this is really just a matter of chasing old ideas when there are better options available. That might be more a function of annoyance than a useful idea, but then I remember that the games I remember most fondly are not ones in which I recall inventory management; at best, I forget those irritations (such was the case with City of Heroes, where I actually forgot about the glut of Enhancement drops even at launch, much less the later crafting materials). What do you think, readers? Is inventory management a fundamental part of MMO gameplay? Or should it be something you don’t have to worry about any longer?

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The Daily Grind: How do you feel about IP-knockoff MMOs?

I have to admit to being a little on the fence about the whole Legends of Equestria project. On one hand, it looks like a spot-on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic production sans the name, and I admire fans who see a need going unfulfilled and go to such lengths to do what the IP owners do not.

On the other hand, I have a slight allergy to knock-offs (I never liked getting Go-Bots in the 1980s when Transformers were available) and it concerns me that all this work might be squashed if the IP owner decides to raise a legal fuss about it. I guess I would much rather have official products rather than fanfiction-made-MMOs, but sometimes you don’t have the luxury of that choice.

How do you feel about IP-knockoff MMO projects? Are they worth pursuing and playing, or should it be “official or bust?”

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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: What sort of content discourages you from projects in MMOs?

Pretty soon, we’re getting the next tier of anima/zodiac/whatever weapons in Final Fantasy XIV. Every time those show up I find myself thinking that this time, this time I’m going to knuckle down and get this done. And each time a FATE grind kicks things off, and then I’m out. No thank you, see you again next expansion. That instantly and viciously kills my interest in the quest line each time around, and honestly I don’t know why; it’s not that I won’t do FATEs for other purposes, after all.

I’m not unique in this, but it’s also nice to know that I’m not the only one who has similar barriers. I know there are people who clocked out of crafting quests in World of Warcraft: Legion because those quests require dungeon running, and these are people who generally are happy to run dungeons and craft. Putting the two together just felt like orange juice and toothpaste, it seems.

So what about you, readers? What sort of content discourages you from projects in MMOs? Is it always the same sort, or does it depend entirely on the game in question? And is that content stuff you enjoy normally or something you don’t want to do anyhow?

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The Daily Grind: Do you like MMO quests with fail conditions?

In my recent forays into Dungeons and Dragons Online, I was forcibly reminded just how different this game in comparison of your standard MMORPG. For one thing, there seem to be many more quests and dungeons that are peppered with fail conditions which immediately terminate a run if certain actions are performed or fail to be executed.

Of course, this sort of thing isn’t exclusive to DDO; when you think about it, most MMOs feature fail conditions on occasion. Maybe it’s that escort quest that tanks if your bumbling NPC gets his or her butt shot up. Sometimes fail conditions come in the form of special achievements that offer an optional layer of difficulty for players looking for challenge.

Do you like MMO quests with fail conditions or do you resent them? What example would you use as a memorable mission with this sort of mechanic?

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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: What are acceptable barriers to experience the story in an MMO?

One of the things that strikes me with a certain degree of bemusement is how often various bits of story in Guild Wars 2 are locked behind things. If you’re not raiding, you’re locked out of the story there; if you weren’t playing when the first season of the Living World story played out, same deal. But then, those are pretty common lockouts, and there are important World of Warcraft stories you simply can’t access if you play now (because they’re not there any more). So perhaps it isn’t surprising.

No sooner do I think about that, though, than I think about what other sorts of lockouts you could design for story content. Some amount of story in MMOs is always locked behind invested time (you have to get up to the right level and so forth) and real-world money (you’ll never see the expansion stories for Final Fantasy XI if you never buy the expansions). But what other sorts of lockouts could you have? Where do you draw the line for what stories should be locked behind and what shouldn’t impede your ability to explore an MMO’s story? Let’s throw that question to you, readers. What are acceptable barriers to experience the story in an MMO? And are there any barriers you would like to see that just don’t show up very often?

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The Daily Grind: Are you ever attracted to MMOs that you know you’ll hate?

As an MMO enthusiast, I have this tendency to cheer games on and be interested in all sorts of titles — even the ones that I know deep down to my bones are not for me. For example, I am not a great fan of PvP-centric MMOs. I don’t resent their existence, but that gameplay is too stressful and fraught with drama for my taste.

Yet I can’t help but be attracted to some of these games because I like the art, the passion, or some of the non-PvP mechanics involved. Crowfall looks gorgeous and I’m all about its eternal kingdoms housing system. Camelot Unchained has such a great team and talent behind it that I feel wistful they aren’t making a PvE game. And I’ve even gone on record as saying that Albion Online’s art style and cross-platform accessibility is pretty cool. What is wrong with me?

Are you ever attracted to MMOs that you know you’ll hate? What do you do with that?

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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 has the best consumable items?

Back at launch, I had a lot of affection for playing a Warrior with Alchemy in World of Warcraft. Sure, I missed out on some cool weaponry along the way, but it was worth it just to have access to some nifty healing tricks at a time when that was hard to come by. It also made me appreciate consumables quite a bit as something to actively use, not something to squirrel away endlessly until a hypothetical rainy day showed up to really require every healing potion I’d ever found.

Of course, this was in stark contrast to my first MMO, Final Fantasy XI, where healing items like potions were rare and expensive, but food was almost mandatory for every single activity. It was also in contrast to City of Heroes, where consumables were dropped for everyone and in constant demand. And the original Guild Wars barely even had consumables as I thought of them.

Lots of games do different things with consumable items, and I fondly remember Star Wars: The Old Republic’s always-usable stims in its launch version. But today, we want to see the best of the best. Which MMO do you think has (or had) the best consumable items? While you’re on the topic, what sort of features do you see as important for consumables?

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The Daily Grind: What’s your favorite pop culture reference in an MMO?

I will never be completely sure of it, but I like to think that the “Deep-Toads” of Lord of the Rings Online’s Moria are a sly reference to the awesome Hypnotoad of Futurama (ALL HAIL THE HYPNOTOAD). I mean, c’mon: They’re huge frogs that toss mesmerizing spirals at you in a way that is unlike how normal amphibians operate.

I really wouldn’t be surprised if it was a reference, because mischievous and sometimes-bored developers are forever tossing in such pop culture nuggets into characters, mobs, and especially quest titles into their games (as a side note: have you ever considered how many quest title names have been created for your MMO? It boggles the mind.).

Assuming that you don’t have a sour puckered reflex against such instances, what’s your favorite pop culture reference in an MMORPG? Bonus question: Did you ever fully realize the truth of one of these references only after a long time of being exposed to it?

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