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: Are blacklists, quizzes, and threats effective at reducing text toxicity in MMOs?

Toxicity in online gaming just keeps popping up – specifically as it pertains to chat and commenting.

MOP reader Tanek pointed us to a thread about Standing Stone Games, which is apparently blocking specific words in LOTRO’s chat, including supposedly “political” words, leading some players to demand the company publish the full list to prove to said players they’re not “biased” (not gonna happen).

Reader Stephen then linked us to the amusing story of a Norwegian site that’s developed a WordPress plugin that requires people to take a quiz on an article’s contents before being allowed to comment.

Finally, there’s Saga of Lucimia, which this week spent its Monday dev blog discussing the Fair Play Alliance and its own home-grown play nice policy – and the fact that it will take a zero-tolerance, insta-ban approach to dealing with racism (we’ll assume other bigotry too).

All of these are approaches to handling specific community problems that MMO players deal with in text-based chat and forums (vs other online games that are more focused on toxic voice chat or grief play). Do you think they’re effective? Do text-based games have a bigger problem than voice-based games? Are chat blacklists, intelligence vetting, and dire threats enough to thwart text toxicity, or is there another way?

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The Daily Grind: What components make up an attractive MMO expansion?

When Star Trek Online announced its Deep Space Nine-themed Victory is Life expansion last week, Eliot and I were briefly talking about its potential appeal and whether or not we would be going back to this game that we have both frequented over the years. The verdict was a bit of a toss-up, but who knows? I love me some DS9 and keep finding my way back to STO despite having burned out on it numerous times in the past.

With all of the expansion announcements as of late, I’ve been thinking about that initial reaction we have to each of their feature lists. Past the flash and glamour of the trailer and PR hype is a laundry list of what’s going to be added to the game. And it’s here, I feel, that MMO players find themselves quickly evaluating whether or not this is attractive to them.

What components make up an attractive MMO expansion? Is it word of a new class or race? Some exciting feature you’ve never seen before? A trip to a region that you’ve been dying to see? Or something else?

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The Daily Grind: What’s the most creative way MMOs thwart toxicity?

Forget group-kicks: If you’re a tool in Sea of Thieves, your own shipmates might just opt to stuff you in the brig – “a holding cell located on the bottom of the ship that disruptive players can be sent to after a democratic vote is held by their shipmates,” explains Polygon in a piece last week. The idea is to give toxic or obnoxious players a chance to apologize or shape up, even roleplay their way out of the situation they created.

This kind of penalty isn’t entirely new to MMOs, whether we’re talking jail in Ultima Online or Age of Wushu, but it’s certainly creative, right? At least as long as the majority of your ship isn’t toxic and you’re the one being shoved into a cell.

What’s the most creative in-game way you’ve seen an online game studio thwart toxicity?

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The Daily Grind: How many alts do you usually have in an MMO?

I have said before when discussing City of Heroes that it was not a game that really supported alts terribly well. There are a lot of other games (such as World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic) that do a better job of ensuring that your alts get benefits from your main character. But CoH did give you lots of space for alts, and perhaps most importantly, it made sure you absolutely always had something to do with your alts. This was a wonderful and dangerous thing.

The reality is that if I can conceivably have alts in a game, I will have alts. And if I can’t conceivably have alts (such as in Final Fantasy XIV) I will still have alts. My character slots are usually full to bursting. I don’t care whether or not they’re necessary, you can make me get through a grindingly slow storyline multiple times and I will still do it. I need my alts.

But there are people who have two or three characters at most, and others who I’m told have just one character and that’s it. So tell us, readers: How many alts do you usually have in an MMO?

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The Daily Grind: When do MMOs get too silly for your comfort?

Let us talk about TERA today. I have never been able to wrap my head around the tone of this game. While it appears to be high fantasy in that gorgeous Korean art style, there are bizarre additions to the game that appear to emerge out of a fever dream by a demented developer. It gets silly, very silly, at times.

Silly is not always a negative, at least not to me, although it has to fit the game in question. I appreciate a whimsical and even childish quest, character, or object here or there, especially if it can make me laugh without having to retcon the entire lore of the game to make it fit.

I think that many of us have a line that can be crossed when a game tries to be too silly for its own good. Has this happened in your MMORPGs or online games? Have you found yourself rolling your eyes over the inanity rather than giggling in delight?

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The Daily Grind: Is player trading a make-or-break MMO feature for you?

MOP reader Xijit recently pointed us to a thread on Bless Online’s Steam page where players are noting that person-to-person trading is not currently possible in some overseas versions of the game, including the Japanese servers. While a Neowiz representative wrote, “There has been a TON of feedback from players that they would like trading for the Steam release, so it is not set in stone yet that trading will not be available for Steam,” that didn’t stop the discussion and frustration over the possibility.

What surprised me was how many people are in favor of demolishing player trade in some form or other on the grounds that it reduces RMT and/or pay-to-win. Personally, I consider player trading crucial to MMOs and don’t even like it when they make it difficult, the way some of my favorite MMOs already do – Guild Wars 2 makes you mail items to each other, for example, while in Trove, you have to hunt down a trading post or leave items in a secured bin in your guildhall.

Is player trading a make-or-break MMO feature for you?

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The Daily Grind: Which MMO has the worst discrepancy in combat pacing?

Back when I played TERA for a feature on Massively-that-was, I found myself playing both a Warrior and a Lancer. Playing as a Warrior meant deftly weaving back and forth, dodging, jumping, and springing all over. Playing as a Lancer meant standing there and, when necessary, poking the target. It was a wildly different amount of work for two classes which at least ostensibly had the same roles.

Obviously, this is not the only case. There was a joke in World of Warcraft that Enhancement Shaman was like frantically playing the piano and Frost Mage was like lazily tooting on a kazoo; you have to constantly be aware of what you’re doing on Red Mage in Final Fantasy XIV but you can sort of just hit abilities as they come up as a Bard. So what do you think, readers? Which MMO has the worst discrepancy in combat pacing? Which game has a few combat options that are constantly in motion, and others that just let you get up and go make a sandwich mid-combat?

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The Daily Grind: Are fan emulators of dead MMOs worth developing?

As an amateur historian and an MMORPG enthusiast, I generally applaud efforts by the community to resurrect, preserve, and even reboot sunsetted games. While there are legal issues to consider, especially over intellectual properties, I want these games to continue on in some fashion. If a studio is not willing or able to do it, then having the community pick up the slack is an acceptable solution in my book.

But this past week I was wondering if there are cases where fan emulators of these MMORPGs might not be worth pursuing. Is keeping City of Heroes operating as a ghost of itself in Paragon Chat helpful to a community that maybe should move on at this point? Do some of the smaller emulators that lack funds and development talent end up doing a disservice to the original title?

What are your feelings on this? Are fan emulators of dead MMOs worth developing, or should we let the deceased rest in peace?

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The Daily Grind: Are you playing Sea of Thieves?

It’s officially Sea of Thieves day; the game launched here in the US in the wee hours of this morning. During our awards rollout at the end of 2017, I called Sea of Thieves one of my most anticipated multiplayer games for 2018. At the time, I could easily imagine my MMORPG guildies, already fond of playing pirates, rolling into the game to crew a ship on the high seas.

But last year’s hype seems to have faded away over the last few months as a critical mass of gamers checked out the pre-launch version of the game and came away with more questions than answers about the game’s PvE content, its unchecked PvP, and maybe above all else, its downsized character creation system. It never was an MMO, but these revelations made it seem even less an MMO than a lot of folks had been led to believe after the E3 demos, subduing the buzz.

How about you? Are you playing Sea of Thieves? Are you waiting to see how it develops? Or have you given it a hard pass?

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The Daily Grind: Is ‘griefing’ possible in an open PvP sandbox?

I was snooping around the Star Citizen Spectrum forums last week when I bumped into a topic that made me back up my snooping truck for a second look. The author attempts to define “sandbox” as a “newer classification” than themeparks, which will make vets grin for sure, but then it goes on to argue that by definition, there’s not really any such thing as griefing in a sandbox as all activities are on the table.

2014 me already argued – successfully, I’d like to think – that PvP isn’t a crucial element of MMOs, let alone sandboxes, so I won’t do that again. But what I did want to home in on is how we ought to be defining griefing. I’ve always thought of griefing as having nothing to do with what is technically legal or socially acceptable in the game but about literally causing grief. Not trying to win, or trying to take something for yourself, which seem like perfectly reasonable activities in any game, but specifically making causing grief in other players your primary goal of your activities, whether or not you’re playing by the game’s particular rules to do so. For example: camping newbie spawn points even when the game doesn’t reward you for doing so. Consequently, it’s just as possible in a game that forbids PvP as one that enables it.

Do you agree with the OP? Is it possible to grief in an open PvP sandbox?

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The Daily Grind: Have you ever engaged in an MMO price war?

One of my friends in Final Fantasy XIV is engaged in a perpetual trade war with another player who tries to drive her out of the markets by buying all of her stuff and reselling it. We do not know how in the world he continues to acquire the gil for same. For that matter, I can’t understand what he’s getting out of it; I barely understand what she’s getting out of it, since she already has plenty of gil. (Stockpiling to help others when needed, I suppose.)

I’ve never been sufficiently into the economy of any game to dive that deep into a trade war with someone, but in some games like EVE Online it’s almost half of the gameplay. And even in games that reward the mere mention of crafting with a swift punch to the ribcage, people find a way to engage in epic battles of gouging and price fixing. So what about you, readers? Have you ever engaged in an MMO price war? Have you bought and resold in an attempt to corner a market? Or have you never even considered such a thing until now?

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The Daily Grind: Have you ever won anything amazing in a lockbox?

With all of the discussion and controversy over MMO lockboxes as of late (you might have seen something), one thing we haven’t talked about much is the actual prizes inside of them. It’s pretty common knowledge that most of the time, you’re going to get really cruddy and disposable rewards (but you’ll be haunted by the possibility of something better, which keeps you coming back).

But, hey, there are always those rare times that you pull out a golden goose rather than a garden variety sparrow from the hat. Have you ever won anything amazing in a lockbox? I can’t recall too many times that this has happened to me, as I only open boxes when I’m given free keys. I did once get a reusable makeup kit from Guild Wars 2 that was pretty handy, and Secret World Legends did toss some 80s-era roller skates my way as a funky “mount.”

What about you?

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The Daily Grind: Why do you read and write MMO reviews?

Rock Paper Shotgun has an intriguiging pair of articles out this week on video game reviews. The first covered what game developers think about reviews on places like Steam; while some devs dismiss reviews as unrepresentative, many actually treat reviews quite seriously, as the most “raw unfiltered feedback” available.

The second, and even more interesting to me, is the one on why reviewers bother, specifically the ones who are offering detailed reviews for free on Steam. Why would you spend two hours typing your soul to total strangers, when you could be making money or playing the game? Those interviewed said they do it for their friends, to practice their own critical thinking, to entertain with jokes, to encourage other people to leave reviews, to “inform consumers about predatory tactics,” and to track their impressions “in the most extremely nerdy, excel-table kind of way.”

Do you write Steam reviews or reviews elsewhere? Why or why not?

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