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: Which survival sandbox are you most likely to play?

Over the weekend, Justin wrote about the deluge of major online multiplayer survival sandboxes hitting us lately. First there was DayZ and its early zombiebox clones, then Daybreak actually made bank on H1Z1, then ARK: Survival Evolved added a dino dimension to the mix, and soon enough we’ll have Conan Exiles to play — with neither dinos nor zombies! And that’s without even mentioning Minecraft’s survival mode and the dozens of smaller survival games along the way (Die 2 Nite and even Realm of the Mad God spring to mind as just two we covered in detail years ago).

Today I’m wondering whether you play any of these. Which one is the best one for a newbie to the genre, an MMO player crossing the border, so to speak? If you’re the newbie, which one of the big survival sandboxes are you most likely to play — which one do you think has the most for an MMORPG player?

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The Daily Grind: Which MMO monetization schemes don’t piss you off?

Gamasutra argued last week that there are three effective in-app purchase strategies that mobile gamers don’t hate:

  • the classic demo, where players can try the game out a little bit before they buy the whole game;
  • opt-in, in-game advertising that rewards players with in-game currency;
  • and paid DLC and expansion content on top of a free-to-play base game.

Now, Gamasutra is talking primarily about mobile games, but as we all know, a lot of mobile strategies have trickled back up from phones to PC, sometimes to the doom of MMORPGs. We’ve seen all three of these strategies applied to MMOs (though the second only minimally), and yet MMO developers seem as likely to bang the P2W gear and cosmetic gear drum, which if our comments are any judge just pisses the heck out of vocal gamers. We deal with huge box prices, #optionalnotoptional subscriptions, Kickstarter preorders, eternal early access shenanigans, and other payment tomfoolery too.

Do Gamasutra’s strategies sit well with you? Which MMO monetization schemes don’t piss you off?

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The Daily Grind: Are you reluctant to test MMOs you’re excited to play?

Am I excited, with some reservations, about World of Warcraft‘s next expansion? You bet. Am I happy to be involved with the testing? Yes. And also no, because I don’t want to be bored with the expansion before it’s actually out. The last thing I want is to go ahead and go whole hog on a title when I know that I’m still not actually making any “real” progress on the live servers… even at the same time that my job kind of necessitates some knowledge of the test, since that’s the only thing to talk about with regards to the game at times.

This is hardly the first time I’ve been in that situation, of course; beta tests for City of Heroes expansions, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Skyforge all threatened to dull my interest in the full product if I overindulged. As frustrating as it could be, I kind of appreciated Final Fantasy XIV‘s very limited beta that prevented me from seeing much of the game until it was actually sticking around for an extended period. But what about you, dear readers? Are you reluctant to test games you know you want to play on launch? What about patches and/or expansions? And whether or not you fear being bored by launch, has it ever happened?

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The Daily Grind: What’s the appeal of survival games?

It hasn’t escaped my attention that survival games have become an insanely popular video game market over the past few years. Titles like ARK: Survival Evolved and Conan Exiles are recycling and refining a formula that seems to revolve around building stuff, building more stuff with the stuff you built before, roaming around, dying to critters, dying to other players, and erecting player towns that are as ugly as they are functional.

As someone who has only lightly dabbled in the genre, I have to put forth this question: What’s the appeal here? Is it just the endless process of crafting? The pride of ownership? Living out fantasies as Bear Grylls? Running your own server fiefdom?

I’m not saying that these games are bad, but they do appear to be pretty much the same thing done over and over and over again. I’d love it if someone explained to me the appeal from the inside!

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The Daily Grind: Does gender play a role in your MMORPG class selection?

We’ve been covering Nick Yee-founded Quantic Foundry’s game analytics research as it’s fleshing out the Gamer Motivation Model, which seeks to create a modernized personality chart for gamers. This week, Quantic wrote that in its recent survey of over a thousand gamers, it could conclude that at least in first-person shooters,

“A higher proportion of male gamers preferred aggressive, close range tactics when compared with female gamers. Stealthy, long-range encounters on the other hand are preferred by a larger proportion of women compared to men. Interestingly, both groups were consistent in having the stealthy approach as the most popular answer, followed by close range tactics. An ‘in-between’ approach was the least popular answer with both men and women.”

(There’s much more to the post, including charts and responses by age, so have a look.)

I wondered whether those data might apply to MMORPG players as well. After all, some MMOs can also be played first-person or at the very least in chase-cam mode. As someone who’s played tanks, healers, and ranged in probably equal measures by now, I certainly don’t fit the profile. How about you? Do you think your gender influences your chosen MMO roles and classes?

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The Daily Grind: What’s the most disheartening loss you’ve had in an MMO?

Losses aren’t fun in any game. No one ever wants to lose. But in a single-player game you usually can reload from a save file, or at the least recover whatever you lost. MMOs can be a different creature altogether.

That valuable ship that got blown up in EVE Online? It’s gone. That bit of armor you forgot to roll on in World of Warcraft? You’re not getting a do-over. I remember running back from an experience party in Final Fantasy XI, getting unexpected aggro, and getting shivved to death in a matter of moments… and losing a level and all of my shiny new gear as a result of it.

Designers in recent years have done their level best to make sure that no single loss is likely to leave you completely heartbroken because no one enjoys that. But you can still lose out, even if it’s just a matter of losing a roll for a piece of equipment you really wanted or failing to clear content that you’ve been trying to get past for ages. So what’s the most disheartening loss you’ve ever had in an MMO? Did you keep playing the game after that?

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The Daily Grind: What’s your favorite MMO easter egg?

The other day someone pointed me to the direction of a big ol’ page of EverQuest II Easter eggs. As someone who only lightly played the game, I thought it was pretty fun to read down this list and see what I was missing.

Easter eggs have a long tradition of being peppered all over video games, and MMOs have certainly run with them. Part of it is the fun of placing little secrets and mentions around the world for player explorers to find, I’m sure, but the rest of it has to be a continuing attempt to help retain developer sanity. Ever wonder why quest titles are almost 90% puns? Each of those puns keeps a dev from snapping, tearing off his or her clothes, and running down the road while screaming of the futility of “class balance.”

What are some of your favorite MMO Easter eggs? Let’s make a nice list here today!

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The Daily Grind: Are OARPGs the future of the MMORPG genre?

Toward the end of 2014, genre academics popularized the idea that the MMORPG genre was becoming “unbundled” — that MMORPGs were splintering, “with sociality, story, multi-player combat, and economy splitting off into different directions and platforms instead of staying unified in MMOs.” At the time, it was hard to argue; it seemed to us that MOBAs, online FPS titles, survival sandboxes, and so forth were taking bits and pieces of the MMORPG genre and running off with them.

The current trend might be the the online action RPG, the multiplayer roguelike — the Diablo clone, essentially. We may never get a pure raiding game, but the OARPG is surely the closest thing to a pure dungeoning experience, and we’ve been seeing them crop up on Kickstarter and Steam early access more and more frequently (in contrast with the decline of new MOBAs).

I’m not horribly sad about it, as I find roguelikes’ multiplayer combat far more interesting than modern MMORPG dungeoning, but I’m certainly not a big fan of the fracturing of the genre, if that is indeed what we’re witnessing. What do you think? Are OARPGs the next big thing for the MMORPG industry?

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The Daily Grind: Does powergaming ruin the MMORPG experience?

A recent article on Kotaku tells the author’s tale of being powerleveled by a friend through Diablo III. “You might think that there’s no ‘wrong’ way to play a game like Diablo III,” Jason Schreier wrote. “This is incorrect. Somehow, I figured out how to pull it off.” Being mindlessly powerleveled through the game, gear spewing from every mob faster than he could loot it and levels zipping by faster than he could respec, basically sapped the fun out of the game, he argued, and he didn’t begin to enjoy himself until his well-meaning, all-powerful buddy logged out and left him to roll a new toon and play by himself at his own noobish pace.

Power-leveling or powergaming has long been seen as a serious sin in some gaming circles and the height of enlightenment in others, and I can’t say it’s ever ruined my enjoyment of a multiplayer ARPG like Diablo III — in fact, sometimes I seek it out. But an MMORPG is a different beast altogether, especially if the point of the MMORPG is exploration, character development, or economy. Rushing can ruin a game, but it can also get you past the boring part of a game and into the good stuff.

What do you guys think? Does powergaming ruin the MMORPG experience?

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The Daily Grind: How frequently do you want events in an MMO?

I have a mixed set of feelings about the various Star Wars: The Old Republic reputation events. On the one hand, it annoys me that I can’t just go do bounty contract stuff when I want, but I have to wait for the week to come back around. On the other hand, the rotating schedule means that I can’t burn out on it after a couple of weeks, and I actually can have goals for when it shows back up again. It also means that the state of the game isn’t static from week to week, which I can appreciate.

The net result is that there are usually events running in the game, though, which prompts this question: How frequently do you want events in an MMO? Is once a month for a week enough for you to feel as if the game is being shaken up by new events? Would you prefer more frequent events rotating on a regular basis? Or would you prefer fewer events, allowing you to just dive into new content more regularly until you’re done with it or tired of it?

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The Daily Grind: Are you a fan of screenshake in MMORPGs?

Some people hate lockboxes, some people hate PvP, some people hate grind, some people hate jiggleboobs. But I hate… screenshake.

Seriously, if I could banish one thing from games, it would be screenshake that makes it impossible to tell what the hell is going on — when it isn’t outright hurting my eyes and sense of balance and making me look away from the damn screen. Screenshake is the strobe lights of gaming, darnit. Woe be unto the MMORPG that won’t at least let me turn it off. Side-eye to the MMORPGs that leave it enabled by default.

How about you guys? Does screenshake annoy you too? Who are you people who enjoy this thing!?

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The Daily Grind: Could a time travel MMO work?

A week or so ago, we reported on the release of an eastern title called Dark Era that was largely unremarkable save for the fact that it allowed players to travel to six different eras in time, to meet historical and fictional characters.

Personally, I didn’t hold great hopes for the game, but it cheered me up slightly to see an MMO — any MMO — tackle time travel as a core theme instead of a fun side quest. It also made me wonder if a time travel MMO on a large scale was actually possible. Thematically, Otherland might be the closest we’ll ever get, but it’d be cool to be able to jump through the centuries, from the past to the future, and even dabble in a bit of paradoxes and cause-and-effects.

That’d be a headache to program, of course, and it would always be compared to the perfection that is Chrono Trigger. As a thought exercise, do you think a time travel MMO could work? How so?

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The Daily Grind: What’s your favorite MMO fantasy creature?

The other day in Final Fantasy XIV I was taken aback when I saw a Lalafell prancing around on a unicorn. You might think that, “Duh, it’s a fantasy game, of course there are unicorns!” Except that, for some reason, unicorns aren’t as ubiquitous in fantasy games as, say, dragons, giant spiders, and accursed Elves. It’s probably because they’re jerks and their horns are only good for rave music.

Anyway, my sighting of said unicorn and the resulting conversation in guild chat made me think that each of us has a fondness for certain fantasy races. After all, other than to stick to recognizable tropes, why would designers keep trotting them out if players hated them? So today I want to ask you to share your favorite MMO fantasy creatures.

Me? It’s kobolds all the way. They might never be end bosses, but I’m always charmed with each incarnation of these ugly little guys and root for them even as I slaughter them by the dozen.

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