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: How kind are you to opposing players in an MMO?

The old expression is that character is who you are in the dark. I think that’s true, but I also think character is who you are in EVE Online when you see someone in a dinky mining ship while you fly along in your decked-out warship. You could destroy that other person’s ship in a blink of an eye and face no consequences if you want to.

So what happens to that mining ship?

This isn’t just about other players, it’s about opposing players. If you have War Mode on in World of Warcraft and happen to be flitting through a low-level area, you can no doubt smash in the face of any players you stumble across. Do you do so? If you see someone struggling in a Notorious Monster fight in Final Fantasy XI when you can heal, do you cast a heal or wait until the player is dead to claim the monster for yourself? How kind are you not just to other players, but to opposing players in an MMO?

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The Daily Grind: When have studios tried to ‘strong arm’ you into changing your MMO playstyle?

The other day when we reported how World of Warcraft had removed the auto-accept functionality from its group finder, Reader Kalech noted, “If people don’t want to be social, they’re not going to be social no matter how much Blizzard tries to strong-arm them.”

That made me pause and reflect, because over the long history of MMOs, studios are forever trying to influence, direct, and sometimes “strong-arm” players into engaging in certain activities or playstyles. It’s not always that overt or constrained, but once in a while you do see a studio try its mightiest to shove players into PvP or to make them socialize more.

So when have MMO studios tried to force you into changing your playstyle — and were they successful?

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The Daily Grind: Should being an MMO ‘whale’ absolve a player of toxicity or push him to the front of a queue?

Longtime MOP reader Agemyth recently brought to our attention a couple of bits of commentary that disturb at least my own fundamental sense of fairness. In one recent Waypoint piece, an ex-mod for a trading card MMO discusses how he witnessed staff allowing a toxic player to keep on being toxic because he was a whale, spending tons of money in-game. And in a Giant Bomb chat earlier this summer, a former MMO CS rep admitted to fast-tracking requests from big spenders. “When the email comes in, the first thing we see is how much money they’ve spent on the game,” he says. (Based on later comments from the same person referring to a $100 lockbox released in the middle of the Battlefront mess, the second company appears to be Trion. Incidentally, he also says the most money he ever saw stamped on someone’s account was $130,000. Let that sink in.)

Anyway. “It doesn’t surprise me that these practices exist, but actually hearing some details about it can still bring a grimace to my face,” Agemyth says. Mine too. Does this also gross you out? Should you be able to get away with being a toxic jerk as long as you keep the dollars flowing? Should how much you spend determine whether a company answers your help requests in a timely manner? If you look at it from the perspective of the company, does it change your answer?

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The Daily Grind: How much of an MMO do you have to play before you feel you’ve got a handle on it?

MMOs are big. Really big. You wouldn’t believe just how mind-bogglingly big they really are. Although you probably would, since you’re here reading about them. And the sheer facet of scale means that it can be really difficult to establish a point when you’ve seen enough to have a good sense of the game.

Obviously, five minutes logged into an official World of Warcraft server won’t give you any idea about the game as a whole; pretty much anyone could agree on that. And at the other extreme, it’s unlikely anyone would expect you to play every piece of content in Star Wars: The Old Republic before you can decide on whether or not the game delivers on what you’re looking for.

Realistically, every game offers you a different amount of things in different combinations and in such arrangements that every game will require different amounts of time to evaluate. You could argue that a few matches in World of Tanks tell the whole story about the game’s mechanics, after all. But then, just playing and leaving means you miss out on the meta and the overall sense of what the game is like over the longer term, which can often be a pretty important element. So what do you think, readers? How much of an MMO do you have to play before you feel you’ve got a handle on it?

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The Daily Grind: How do you handle MMO alts when new content releases?

For those of you who only play one and just one character in any given MMO, today’s discussion is probably not for you. But for the rest of us who nurture and engage with a flock of alts, it can be a challenge when new content — whether it be a story scenario, update, or expansion — lands on the server.

How do you handle this? I used to focus solely on a single character until I finished up most of the new content and then would move on to other alts, although lately I’ve changed to more of a rotational model to give each character equal time spread out over multiple nights.

Do you go a step further with this and use spreadsheets and tracking charts, even? Let’s strategize together today!

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The Daily Grind: Did you go back to World of Warcraft for Battle for Azeroth?

Did they getcha? Did they suck you in again for another go-round?

I have a flurry of guildies in World of Warcraft right now thanks to Battle for Azeroth, and yet I haven’t been enticed to go back. In fact, Legion was the first expansion I didn’t buy or go back during, and now we’re at the next one and I’m still in exactly the same shruggy place. I’m not saying I’m over it forever. I’m not saying I’ll never go back. The game just isn’t doing it for me personally right now. There are things they could do that would make me whip out my wallet: new classes (bards!), real housing, a meaningful economy – maybe something that replicates the exploration amusement of vanilla, the dungeon joy of Wrath, or the questing and farm fun of Pandaria. Probably plenty of cool things I haven’t even thought of could get me in there; the truth is, I am a sucker for the idea of playing The Big One, secure in the knowledge that it’s a sure bet for longevity.

But this expansion isn’t grabbing me, and that’s OK. Not everything has to be for me. And I’m glad it’s grabbing some of you – who doesn’t love all the buzz and hoopla? So did you go back to World of Warcraft for Battle for Azeroth?

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The Daily Grind: Do you have an MMO backlog, and if so, what’s on it?

If you follow the mainstream gaming media meta at all, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of sites, spurred on by Polygon, have been mulling over the concept of the backlog – you know, that pile (or digital list) of games you bought and haven’t finished or even tried. Did we even have backlogs before online platforms like Steam? Because I don’t really remember having one back then – I just played what I had. But then again, I’m also primarily an MMORPG gamer. So I don’t fret tooooooo much about the non-MMOs I bought cheap for a rainy day. Occasionally I’ll blast through my non-MMO list and do a sort of 15-minute speed-dating game with some untrieds, but mostly, I’m content with just having some novelty waiting for me when I need it.

My MMO and online game backlog, though, eats at me. I bought Project Gorgon this summer, for example, and haven’t tried it. Staxel and No Man’s Sky too. These kinds of games have a time limit, and yet they require a certain presence of mind and concentration to dig into properly that I haven’t had this season.

Do you have an MMO backlog, and if so, what’s on it?

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The Daily Grind: Do you consider yourself an expert on your favorite MMOs?

Expertise is a funny thing; it’s the sort of thing usually best demonstrated by never claiming it but simply showing it. Most people confronted by someone claiming to be an expert at a given game like World of Warcraft are going to respond with eye-rolling and no small amount of exasperation, especially if that self-proclaimed expert immediately screws something up. For that matter, it’s almost always accompanying a blatantly incorrect statement. “You should listen to me, I’m an expert at this game, Enhancement Shaman is for healing.”

That isn’t to say that you necessarily aren’t an expert, even if you wouldn’t claim it. Sure, you might not happily shout about how you’re an expert at Star Trek Online, but you know most of the game’s traits cold and can figure out a ship build in three minutes flat; that’s pretty clearly expertise. So share with us, dear readers. Do you consider yourself an expert on your favorite MMOs? And, as a perhaps important corollary, do you generally inform strangers of that fact?

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The Daily Grind: Where have you gotten bogged down in MMO play?

Probably one of my biggest bugaboos (that’s a technical term) in MMO play is when I get bogged down trying to progress through a certain point in the game. Maybe it’s a difficult to navigate zone or a frustratingly tough area, but there’s nothing that kills my enthusiasm to log in than when I’m making slow-to-no progress in my gaming sessions.

Recently I had to make a concerted effort to push myself through Northern Mirkwood in Lord of the Rings Online. While it was spot-on with its dark, eerie atmosphere, the visual difficulties coupled with the challenging terrain made questing a plodding affair. At least I got out and saw the daylight again!

Where have you gotten bogged down in MMO play? Have you ever hit a wall that was difficult to pass? Did you make it through or just give up?

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Massively Overthinking: Should MMORPGs incentivize exploration – and how?

Our Daily Grind on exploration last week sparked an intriguing follow-up from MOP reader Miol.

“When asking about sightseeing and exploration in MMORPGs, you also mentioned the lack of rewarding incentives for exploring those worlds, or worse, a poor implementation of such features, as you pointed out by Guild Wars 2’s vistas. Many of Wander’s mechanics also come to mind for me. You and many commenters in that article stated that their exploration mostly happened by their own initiative!

“So what features would you all wish in an exploration-heavy MMO? Is Trove’s Geode with its non-combat spelunking on to something? Would exploring other players’ curation and display of art already be enough for you, a la Occupy White Walls? What would an MMO need to simulate a fun road trip? Would looking for that one place with those until-then-unmatched resource stats, be a definite must for you, as in Star Wars Galaxies? Or is open-world housing more of a priority, so you can find that perfect spot for your porch? Purely just survival features? Or maybe even, as Andrew once mentioned, a certain mechanic for dying, as in Project Gorgon?”

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The Daily Grind: Is it time to move on from PvP ‘factions’ in MMORPGs?

I’m think I’m over factions in MMOs. I get why RvR games need them, and I’ll grudgingly concede that the average player is far better off joining an arbitrary NPC faction for PvP than wading through the morass of player gangs and protection rackets that pass for guilds in some sandboxes. But for MMO themeparks where the PvP is minimal or walled off or without any impact on the world, I’m kind of sick of them.

That feeling’s come to a head the last few weeks thanks to World of Warcraft’s cheesy attempts to rile up the playerbase and make us shout down the “other side” like sports hooligans. One reader pointed out how these kinds of factions still functionally divide friends from playing together for no reason. Another called faction jabber “forced propaganda.” I wouldn’t be sorry to see factions go away in most MMOs. The whole thing feels so fake and exhausting.

Is it time to move on from PvP “factions” in MMORPGs? Am I missing some vital and necessary function for this type of design?

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The Daily Grind: How much time do you spend on aesthetics in MMOs?

You don’t want to know how much time I’ve spent carefully decorating my characters’ living spaces in Final Fantasy XIV. Or maybe you do; it is kind of on-brand. And the reality is that it’s about as much time proportionally as I’ve spent decorating strongholds in Star Wars: The Old Republic or assembling outfits in World of Warcraft or carefully choosing which sort of nacelle looks better on my ship in Star Trek Online. Let’s just round up and say that it’s a lot of time.

Keep in mind, many of these things aren’t just time spent arranging things. Decorating a house in FFXIV means time spent deciding on furnishings, figuring out where to get them, usually gathering a lot of items to craft and crafting tons of furniture, then placing all of it. A new outfit in WoW means having most of the look, but having to go run one dungeon or another a few times for the last necessary drop, then color-coordinating the bits that look almost right but not quite. So what about you? How much time do you spend on aesthetics in MMOs? Is it a big part of your playtime, or do you just focus on the functional and then move on?

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The Daily Grind: Is ‘god mode’ fun for MMO play?

Unlike some console and PC titles, online RPGs don’t typically offer “god mode” (despite what you may have heard about certain classes). We don’t get to flip a switch and suddenly be invincible and uber-powerful to rofflestomp all over our enemies.

Except… sometimes we do, thanks to over-leveling. The other night I had a great amount of fun revisiting World of Warcraft’s Northrend raids, steamrolling through these old endgame instances without any challenge. Seeing hordes of enemies die at a single spell while not being able to touch me at all was pretty amusing, but I enjoyed the ability to explore and experience these raids far more.

Do you think that god mode is fun for MMO play? If so, when and how should it work in games — and to what purpose?

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