The Soapbox is home to our staff’s wild opinions on MMORPG topics near and dear to us. [Follow this column’s RSS feed]
Although the Asheron’s Call series has now been dead for exactly one year today, it’s far from forgotten by fans. It was admittedly a cult classic, and as the youngest of the “Big Three” graphical MMOs, it was the easiest to ignore, especially as it used an original sci-fi/fantasy setting rather than, well, something with elves.
MMO AC converts I’ve met regularly said the game was more solo-friendly and more story-driven than Ultima Online and EverQuest, receiving monthly updates that felt like downloadable content before DLC was a common industry term. These weren’t simply automated addons but events that were often curated in a fashion that is similar to Game Masters in tabletop RPGs, meaning that those who built the scenario sometimes participated as their own lore characters, placing themselves at the mercy of their own game and community. While several events in both AC1 and AC2 made use of this kind of interactive story-telling style, none is better recalled than the first event: The Shard of the Herald.
How much is too much?
To some, that might seem like a reasonable question. But I knew. I knew. There is no such thing as too much!
There was a question raised on Massively OP this past week about in-game hoarding. I answered… boy did I answer. I kept answering. It was just like my virtual bags: I filled the space to overflowing. And I just kept going. And now, it’s even spilling over to The Soapbox! It’s not my fault games make cool things I like and want to keep, or make getting stuff so much fun (searching through every box and barrel, anyone?). But there is much more to it than that. Yes, I admit I am a serial hoarder. But I am also an unrepentant hoarder! It’s not a problem. Others may think I have a problem.
I see it as item security.
Bloggers and journalists throughout the online gaming industry have been talking about monetization a lot lately. It’s not just lockbox/gachapon scandals, or their relationship with gambling, but basic monetization and what we want from it. Games, after all, don’t make themselves; we have to pay for something to make that happen. But some gamers seem to view free-to-play games as a game that should be free, not one to be supported if it earns respect. And on the flipside of that, far too few game studios give off a vibe not of experimenting with monetization but of maximizing profits above all else while barely veiling their greed.
However, outside the MMO world, there is a company that’s been doing it “right” for a long time: Nintendo. The AAA developer/publisher is known for both innovation and hesitance, following in others’ footsteps with great trepidation, trying to figure out the ins and outs while entering the mobile market long after it’s been established. The company recently released a new mobile title, but what’s interesting is that it and the company’s last four games are all different genres with different monetization strategies. Exploring these titles and their relationship to their monetization plans will not only highlight the potential success of the models but hint at why they work and how they can be curbed into models gamers and lawmakers can better accept.
Inconvenience is not immersion.
This strikes me as something rather ridiculous to type; to mildly paraphrase Dan Harmon, it seems like should be one of the more automatic things to tell people, like “I am a human being” or “I have skin” or “I breathe oxygen.” And yet I see this coming up, time and again, the idea that accessibility is somehow a boundary to immersion. Or that you need this sort of tedium in order to have genuine roleplaying or some other tribute to broken mishmashes and unnecessary inconvenience.
Except that, as mentioned, inconvenience is not immersion. They mean two different things. If you’re conflating the two, you’re pushing two unrelated concepts together in a way usually seen in clueless movie executives. (“This movie about young adults with a love triangle did well, so every movie with young adults probably needs a love triangle.”) You are, I assume, smarter than that.
Don’t be too mad at Star Wars: Battlefront II. It’s a symptom of a problem, not the cause. I mean, be mad at people dumb enough to put the blame for negative reactions on the press, that’s just plain stupid. But at the heart of the matter is a problem that’s actually choking through game development all the way down the line.
Because while people are talking about “well, maybe games need to cost more” (and that aforementioned none-too-wise comment of an analyst does precisely that), the reality is that this would still be happening no matter what. The problem is not a matter of Battlefront II costing too little money to pay for its development. The problem is that design and budgets are broken, the market is a mess, and microtransactions are being used as a bludgeon instead of a tool.
And all of this is exacerbated by the fact that every single publisher wants to pretend that everything is peachy.
Last week we broke the story that EVE Online
developer CCP Games is backing out of the virtual reality games market
, closing its Altanta office and selling its VR-focused Newcastle studio. The long-held Atlanta office was acquired in the merger with White Wolf in 2006 and has been hit with several rounds of layoffs over the years, with a major hit in 2011
after the Monoclegate disaster and another 2014 when the World of Darkness MMO was cancelled
. The Newcastle studio was the development house responsible for CCP’s VR dogfighter EVE: Valkyrie
, and both Valkyrie
and CCP’s new VR game Sparc
will now be maintained by the London office.
Around 100 staff were laid off in the restructuring, roughly 30 of whom worked in CCP’s headquarters in Reykjavik, Iceland. Though we were informed at the time that these changes would not impact the development of EVE Online, it since became apparent that more than a few non-development staff were cut. In addition to the EVE PR staff and others that were stationed in Atlanta, all but two members of the EVE community team in Reykjavik have also been let go. There are reports that several GMs and the localisation manager for EVE have departed too, and the mood on twitter from staff in Reykjavik recently is best described as sombre and a little shaken.
In this extra edition of EVE Evolved, I dig into CCP Games’s history of taking risks with staff’s jobs, look at some of those affected by the layoffs, and ask whether there is more fallout to come.
NCsoft done messed up. Again. Yes, I know the studio has already had a few black eyes for other things
throughout the years, but this recent punch hit closer to home. So close, it involved multiple family members. What happened? A debacle called Aion
server merges. Yeah, I know all server merges tend to feel pretty rotten and are fraught with troubles by default, but there is a right way and a wrong way to go about them. And boy does it ever feel like NCsoft was all gung-ho for the wrong.
For example, as much as the ArcheAge server evolution affected me negatively, it was still is a shining beacon of doing more right — and that’s saying something! That merge left me feeling as if I could return to regular play sometime. The way the whole thing played out for Aion has chased an eager paying player away as well as a long time vet from the game, and who knows how many others who will be affected.
If nothing else, another black eye does not bode well for goodwill and trust, things NCsoft was pretty short on anyway.
So we’ve gotten another post from a developer saying that they’re going to really 100% be better about rooting out toxic players from their games. Seriously, we mean it this time. The latest one is from Blizzard, but let’s be real, this is something that’s always happened. We always get periodic statements from companies that this time they’re really going to address toxic behavior, someone links that inevitable Penny Arcade strip, nothing really changes, play laugh track, roll curtains.
I’d like to be happy about this, I really would, but it’s so much empty posturing, and it came out only shortly before the announcement that everyone who plays the game can now be signed to the Overwatch League. I think the two are pretty closely connected. And I think we need to actually start talking about this because this sort of darkly toxic problem is at the core of the designs of these games, even though on some level it’s entirely separate. The problem isn’t that these games are designed to be toxic; it’s that they’re designed to encourage toxicity.
Getting rid of individual toxic players, as Blizzard purports to do, is merely treating the symptom. We need to discuss the disease.
I know I complain a lot about Pokemon Go in my articles here, but there’s a reason for this. I’m a huge fan not just of the Pokemon series but of what Niantic is trying to do with its game on a basic level. The idea of getting games outside with the rest of the world instead of hidden in our rooms and offices is hugely appealing. I’ve even applied to work at Niantic before (though obviously I wasn’t selected), so for me especially it’s frustrating to see a company I want to succeed repeatedly making the same kinds of mistakes. These are mistakes that plagued the game’s launch, several events, feature reworkings, and now not one, but two birthday celebrations within the same year.
I actually got sucked into the hype recently and even said that the events surrounding the festival might give people a reason to come back. I’ve finally removed my foot from my mouth after previously downing some crow, but I’ve realized that, now more than ever, Niantic needs some tougher love, and here it is.
Your favorite MMO is going to die. Don’t take it personally, though; every other MMO is going to shut down, too. That includes my favorites and everyone else’s favorites.
Do you like Final Fantasy XIV? It’s going to shut down. WildStar? It’ll shut down. Ultima Online? Oh, yes, the shutdown is coming. The Secret World? Guild Wars 2? The Elder Scrolls Online? Destiny (yes, I meant to leave off the 2, I mean the original)? RIFT, Trove, Black Desert, Revelation Online, Crowfall? All of the above will shut down.
But don’t get up in arms about this. Seriously, relax, take a deep breath, maybe hum a little William Shatner tune. All of these games are going to shut down, but that’s just because every single MMO exists in one of three states: not yet launched, shut down, or waiting to be shut down. And as cynical as that may seem, I think accepting that truth is going to do wonders for all of us when it comes time for the next unexpected shutdown. Because it’s going to happen.
I’ve mentioned many a time that I like Funcom
quite a bit. I want
to like Funcom quite a bit. Heck, I want to be excited about Secret World Legends
, but every day or so I get reminded that such a course of action will be very difficult at the least. Because quite frankly, Secret World Legends
seems to want me not
to be excited about it, as evidenced by… oh, every single thing that Funcom is doing around it.
Which is odd, because Funcom literally has access to a playbook for a large-scale reboot.
Secret World Legends is coming off of The Secret World, which was a cult MMORPG classic with a mighty fan following. Final Fantasy XIV was coming off of… well, its initial version, which had a fan following full of people who admitted that it was halfway to Stockholm Syndrome. And yet that game managed to get people excited and earn fans, while Funcom seems dead-set on alienating people or making them just plain nervous.
I’ve been a bit frustrated with Niantic lately. I love some of its ideas, but I watched someone else play Ingress prior to Pokemon GO’s release, and I noticed very similar problems between the two games after release — problems that the company should have noticed and corrected in its followup.
Recently I decided to try out the former. Both are totally unintuitive. You have to search the UI for the tutorials, though Ingress’ can be accessed only near objectives. You’re asked to join a faction sooner there than in PoGO and with no context beyond 2-3 sentences. The game throws jargon with little to no context at you throughout the tutorial, making it difficult to follow. I walked around, clicking things and used items that I don’t fully understand, not because I’m too lazy to read but because I wanted to understand a game without consulting google. I saw portals get taken without anyone around me as I stood by an objective near a government-restricted area where standing still longer than it takes to read “No Trespassing” could trigger security. I couldn’t get into it, not just because it was simple but because it was poorly designed.
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.