The Soapbox is home to our staff’s wild opinions on MMORPG topics near and dear to us. [Follow this column’s RSS feed]
Today is the official release of Mass Effect: Andromeda, which was preceded by the frankly baffling decision to allow people access to an early build of the game ahead of time. Or perhaps the final build without everything enabled? The point is that you could play a bit of it if you were willing to drop some money. That seems like a bad idea that we've been dealing with in online-game-land for a long time, but regardless, it gave people the opportunity to see some of this RPG ahead of time.
This, in turn, allowed the typical internet trolls to find any and all animation flubs and then happily declare that it was all the result of one woman working on the game and handling all of the animations. Which, you know, is a conclusion that would be helped significantly if the woman in question actually worked in that role on the game, which she did not.
Obviously, the game under discussion is not an MMO. But it is symptomatic of two all-too-common problems in gaming culture that are worth noting to people who do not have balls of spiders in place of a soul. So let's talk about those.
A couple of years ago, The Force Awakens introduced us to (among other things) a lightsaber that looks poorly made, like a little kid made it
. So Star Wars: The Old Republic
added a version of it to a lockbox, and everyone got pissy. Then it got added to direct sales
, and everyone got pissy.
Including me! Except, in my case, not because I feel like one side or the other is being hard done by. No, it's that rare situation wherein I consider pretty much everyone involved to be whining about something that really requires not the slightest bit of whining. Yes, everyone here is being dumb and I am on absolutely no one's side here. Except for the side of tegu.
As such, I've compiled my thoughts briefly below, with sections dedicated to both "sides" of the debate and all of the people who are mad. I've also included a few pictures of big old lizards because I was told that I couldn't write an entire column about liking lizards and I can be petulant, too. So if you don't care about this debate, check out some lizard pictures. That'd be fun.
Pokemon GO Generation 2 is out now, and it feels a lot like an MMO expansion in a lot of ways: We have new features, we have new grinding mechanics, and (of course) the combat system's been overhauled (twice, with the original change making dodging useless, the second possibly fixing the situation).
On the one hand, I'm excited as a Pokemon fan, especially since it's a free update. On the other hand, I'm starting to think that Raph Koster's famous comments on AR games being MMOs might be a bit off, at least in terms of POGO.
When ARK: Survival Evolved came on the scene in June 2015, it was met with enthusiasm (dinosaurs!) as well as some skepticism (Early Access). But Studio WildCard quickly won over many fans with the game's delivery, which included frequent updates (and dinos of course). And we do mean frequent! The studio was cranking out meaty content and bug fixes at a rate never seen before in any other EA title -- sometimes updates were multiple times a day! Stuff came so quickly it was hard for server admins to keep up with at times. Many of us started holding ARK up as an example of early access done right. Why couldn't other studios do early access more like WildCard?
But over time, that sentiment changed. A year and a half later, folks who have championed long for ARK -- including me -- have taken a few steps back. Enjoyment is giving way to frustration. Fans are giving up and leaving. Why is that? Bugs? Devs? Shifted priorities from finishing to milking money? Different eyes might see different causes, but the one thing stands out: The development process has changed. What was once so great is now not so great. And you have to wonder if this spells trouble for the studio.
You'd think recent news about Asheron's Call 1 and AC2 would be easy to swallow. After all, we'd already been warned that Turbine was becoming a mobile company. We lived through the end of AC1 updates and a desire to give players the chance to host their own servers. Heck, AC2 had died and resurrected. We've been living on borrowed time, but anything seemed possible. Despite the fact that Turbine's games were squeaking by (when not getting cancelled), I thought that fan power would lead the company to see what it'd done right (innovating MMOs) and where it had failed (straying from monthly updates and GM lead content).
Clearly I was wrong.
Can we collectively accept that? Marketing, developers, and players alike? Launch is launch. When your game launches, it has launched. If I can reach another decade on this planet without ever hearing the term "soft launch" again except as a historical footnote, I will be... well, I don't know that I'll be happy, but I'll certainly be happy with that particular development.
Unfortunately, I appear to be on the wrong side of this. Early access and points related have disrupted the very concept of a launch state, and developers have been working hard to redefine "launch" as an arbitrary goal line rather than a term referring to the point when a game is bought and paid for. But I think more so than the ambiguity of testing terms, the way we've diluted the idea of launch has really had an impact on our perceptions of products and the state of a game.
"Dad, can I pilot your ship tonight?"
I turn around to see my seven-year-old son giving me Bambi eyes with his hands clasped because, somewhere along the line, he realized that being ultra-cute got him what he wanted about 70% of the time. Plus, he only has a short while before that wears off and he becomes a belching, sweaty teen.
He was talking about Star Trek Online, although my kids never call games by their proper names. STO is "that space pilot game" and World of Warcraft is "the kill bad guys game," both of which are far superior titles than the originals, I think you'd agree. I had let him fly my starship once and it got him hooked, mostly because it wasn't super-fast and twitchy but forgiving and simple to maneuver. Now I get pestered at odd hours to help him further his Starfleet career, even though he has yet to see a single episode of the show.
I walked away from last week's Star Wars: The Old Republic
livestream pretty happy. Considering that I repeatedly say how much I absolutely loathe
information presented as a video rather than just a nice solid block of text, that says something.
When I returned to SWTOR, it was after a two-year break from the game that followed reasonably close on the heels of Rise of the Hutt Cartel. I enjoyed that expansion, but what kind of dragged me to a halt with the game was my general disinterest about Star Wars combined with the fact that the endgame was the same unpleasant mire that wasn't doing World of Warcraft any favors then or now. It's important to note that when I left, the game had been my main go-to game for quite some time.
Now, of course, The Force Awakens managed to kindle a heretofore unprecedented affection for the franchise in me (a discussion of that would be outside of this particular article's wheelhouse) and my wife and I couldn't help but go back. And that brings me around to now, in the wake of a livestream where the prospect of new operations is basically met with a shrug and a guess. That earned some points.
This guest Soapbox
was commissioned through Massively Overpowered's Kickstarter campaign and is authored by D. Emery Bunn
. The opinions here represent the views of our guest author and not necessarily Massively OP itself. Enjoy!
Gaming media is broken. "Honest reviews" can come off like a sarcastic jab, especially with massive site-spanning advertisements mere pixels from the reviews themselves. Add in the lure of exclusives, and "fair and unbiased" sounds like a joke to many.
But gaming media and the industry it covers aren't broken from some form of malevolent hatred and a greedy desire to part gamers from their money. Regrettably, three things combine to create an environment where criticism can destroy a media outlet entirely, even when criticism is a vital part of journalism itself.
I've been reading this book by Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit. Actually, the full title is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and in Business, but that was a mouthful for an opening sentence. It's a book that draws heavily on academia as well as interviews with private sector executives to identify something called the habit loop, which is the author's way of quantifying how the human brain sorts habits from conscious choices.
"At one point, we all consciously decided how much to eat and what to focus on when we got to the office," Duhigg writes. "Then we stopped making a choice, and the behavior became automatic." What does that have to do with video games or MMORPGs? Let's find out.
When I was a kid, I had far too many Star Wars action figures, vehicles, and playsets. And when I say kid, I actually mean 25-year old man. Then I discovered girls and the merits of a clean and clutter-free house. I also discovered MMOs, which are basically virtual playsets with digital action figures tailor-made for scratching sci-fi collectible itches in a socially acceptable fashion.
So, instead of stalking eBay or the aisles of my local toy store, I spent 20 hours decorating my Nar Shaddaa sky palace in Star Wars: The Old Republic this week. That's right, 20 hours without a single blaster shot. And 20 hours sans the telltale snap-hiss of my lightsaber(s).
It's been both fun and frustrating, which is basically SWTOR in a nutshell.
Wouldn't it be cool if every MMORPG that failed to reach its potential were granted some sort of do-over? We've seen it happen once, with 2013's hugely successful A Realm Reborn reboot rising from the ashes of 2010's Final Fantasy XIV farce.
That's most definitely an isolated incident that owes a lot to Square's deep pockets, though, and there are plenty of additional MMORPGs that started off as great ideas and ended up in desperate need of a retool.
Earlier this week, Justin asked what gives you hope for the future of the MMOs. As you might expect, the responses were many and varied, with some people naming a far off game or two while a few said that current titles are all they need from MMOs. Still others said -- and I quote -- abandon hope all ye who enter here because the genre has strayed so far from its original identity that it now serves an entirely different playerbase.
If you'd asked me this question a year or so ago, I'd have fallen firmly into that last camp. The genre has inarguably changed, and arguably for the worse, especially if you are a fan of sandboxes, grouping, virtual world gameplay in general and non-combat gameplay in particular. But as I said in my own comment, better days are ahead, thanks in my opinion to a handful of independent MMOs.