I had an idea. What if I convinced my wife, who doesn’t generally like games, to play games with me, or rather against me, and I documented each one in a blog series? So I posed the idea to her, and she was lukewarm on it, but over time as I mentioned it now and then she began to like it more.
But what would we call it?
Oh, she didn’t like the name much. But it had actually been the jumping off point for the whole idea for me. I’d seen those shows, Man vs Food and Man vs Wild and the rest, and I thought to myself, “What happens when you take a man who loves gaming and he marries a woman could take it or leave it? Man vs Wife!” And it works for me, as both a play on those reality TV shows and as a play on the ends of wedding vows when the officiant pronounces the couple “man and wife”.
And so it begins. We’ve played one game already and I’m working on writing it up (we actually video tape the session so I don’t have to take notes), and we have a pile of board games and video games. Hopefully I’ll have the first one up within a week. After that I make no promise as to a schedule.
Anyway, that’s it. Just a minor announcement of future content.
If you travel in the gaming blog circles, you might have heard about or even read a little anonymous diatribe about Warhammer Online. And there are responses. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. And I’m sure there are more… But really, I don’t want to talk about that. Instead, let’s talk about what constitutes a failure in the MMO world.
I’ve seen a number of places, in comments on the above linked posts and all around the Internet that Warhammer “failed”. However, they sold 1.2 million boxes, which I have to assume covered a good bit, if not all of the development costs. We know they bled subscribers, and the last official numbers were that they had 300,000 subscribers as of March 2009. They have cut back on servers, down to 9 (4 US, 2 UK, 2 German, 1 French) and are most certainly down below the reported 300k. Still… if we can assume that the box sales and the first couple of months recouped the development investment, and if the current operating costs are below their subscription revenue, while the returns for the investors aren’t good, is an MMO operating in the black a failure? I mean, they haven’t shut the game off yet, so I kinda have to assume they operate in the black, or damn close to it. I could be wrong.
Clearly, the game did not perform as well as people would have hoped. They didn’t make WoW-style money hats to wear while driving dump trucks of money to the bank, but did they lose money? Is the game bleeding cash? Each perspective on a game defines failure in different ways. An investor, for example, will define failure as earning less money than other, less risky, options. If he earned less on his cash than he would have just putting it in a savings account, then it’s an epic failure. A publisher or game company probably defines success or failure on the affect the game has on both the bottom line AND the company reputation. If a game is making money but the press keeps bringing the game up as being crap or failing, then overall the game is probably a failure since it might affect getting future investors to give you their money.
For me, as a player and a wanna-be developer, success means the game runs and I, as a player, can play it and we, as the developers, are still able to release more content. Failure exists only when the game is in the red and we have to shut it off to keep from bankrupting everyone involved.
How many MMOs have truly failed? Asheron’s Call 2, The Matrix Online, Tabula Rasa, APB, Motor City Online, The Sims Online… Are there more bodies in the MMO graveyard? How do you define failure?
The casual gaming market is filled with games that, in my humble opinion, are more hardcore than even some of the most hardcore games.
Mostly, this comes from how you can play. Take Farmville for example. When I was playing, it drove me batty that I would log in and actually run out of things to do. I tended my crops, dealt with my animals, bought some stuff, visited neighbors and then… I had to wait. Sure, I could pick short growth crops, but even then I’d still have time where I literally couldn’t play the game. Then, if I chose a long term crop because I expected to be away from the game for a while, but turned out to have some time a few hours later to play, I couldn’t because I tied up all my crops in growing long term stuff. I had this same issue with Mafia Matrix when I was playing it. I’d log in, do all the stuff I could, then be forced to wait to play more.
Coming out of a long term love affair with MMORPGs, this was a shock. In EQ or WoW or CoH or any other triple A title, when you logged in, you had stuff to do, and you could do it for as long as you wanted. The game never stopped and said, “You’re done. Go do something else and come back later.” The only big MMO that skirts this line is EVE Online. Yes, there are always things to do, but if you’ve chosen to focus on manufacturing and skill training, you might find yourself logging in once or twice a day, checking on things, clicking a few things and then logging out. Some people do this in WoW with crafting cool downs, but that is such a tiny fraction of the game that I can’t really claim it has much of an impact.
Anyway, back to games like Mafia Matrix being more hardcore… I mean that only in the time intensive way. You can perform a task every X minutes. If you are away from the game, you gain no credit. You come back, you click and have to wait X minutes. Because of the fixed time limitations, you have no way to grind out advancement to make up for lost time. Time away from the game is not only time lost, but time you are falling behind as everyone else clicks right past you. For me, this type of design creates anxiety. I log in, I play, and have fun, but when I’m away for too long I start to feel like I’m actually losing. In many triple A MMOs, I don’t get that since I know when I do play I can double up my efforts and get more done, especially since many of them offer bonuses for being “rested” (meaning you haven’t played).
The short of it is, I don’t like this sort of design, especially for things being designated as “casual”. I mean, Bejeweled Blitz doesn’t only let me play 5 times and then tell me to come back in an hour. I can play as much as I want every time I’m there, and being away doesn’t penalize me.
As I’ve said, the design of many games is to have as many friends as possible. Lately, I’ve been playing Zombie Wars. Decent game, I enjoy it, but I’m stuck. I need 20 people in my colony to move to the next area. I have 13. I have sent invites to most, if not all, of my 149 friends, but can’t get another 7 of them to start playing. The game is dead to me. I could, however, go to the Zombie Wars fan page and find people who also need more colony members and friend them in order to get moving.
This is where the insecurity comes in. By default in Facebook, a “friend” has access to everything on your profile, unless you’ve specifically gone in and denied access to a particular piece of info. You can restrict someone’s access by making a group, denying access to that group, and then adding that person to the group. This is cumbersome and not obvious. And if you engage in adding people for the sole purpose of progressing in a game, you are likely to accept a friendship of someone saying, “Hey! Add me for Zombie Wars!” even though you don’t know them. Those people might not even be real. They could be a phishing profile, looking to get at your personal data that is hidden behind the “friend barrier” and if you let them in without restriction they’ll get it.
I hope the way Facebook games work evolves. In the meantime, I hope people start to pay attention to how they use Facebook, because they could be risking more than they know.
I’ve been going to Dragon*Con for years. I’ve probably been ten times, my first time being probably in 1993 or 1994. I’ve missed some years, but I’ve attended more than I’ve missed. If you have never been to Dragon*Con, I recommend it.
As much as I do love the con, I’ll be the first to admit that if you go with any frequency, certain aspects of it will get… repetitive. If you are interested in writing and getting published, the writing track has panels that are good to attend where you can listen to published authors talk about how they got published. Better yet, you can probably ask them yourself. (Just don’t hand them a manuscript, they aren’t -generally- publishers or editors themselves.) However, after you’ve been to that panel a few times, unless they add some new and awesome guests you don’t need to attend it again, or at least just not every year. Go to con enough years and you’ll find that you’ve “seen everything” – which you really haven’t, believe me, just when you think you’ve seen it all at Dragon*Con someone will walk out in a costume or some guest will sign on (Shatner and Nemoy last year!!) and prove that you haven’t – but when you get to feeling that way there are really only too options: coast or step up.
To coast would be to attend every year, go to the parties, visit a few panels, maybe wear a costume and just enjoy the weekend. Nothing wrong with that at all. But the other option, to step up, would be to volunteer for staff. Dragon*Con is a con for fans by fans. Grim said it pretty well:
Now, here are some major differences between Dragon*Con and “everybody else”…
GenCon is gaming, only gaming, nothing but gaming. They are the Mac-Daddy gaming convention, and they do gaming very well. They do not, however, have concerts, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Costuming, or any of the other “3 hotels worth of stuff” that Dragon*Con does.
Penny Arcade Expo, is run for gaming companies, by gaming companies, and caters to an established audience. If you are a computer or console gamer, this is a great convention. If, however, you want to have drinks with celebrities, or are not a hardcore gamer. PAX isn’t for you.
Comic-Con focuses on Sci-Fi and (duh) Comics. You’ll have a pretty good chance of seeing celebrities there (since it’s located near Los Angeles and New York) and there is a correspondingly large media presence there.
There is only one convention that does “all of the above”. There’s only one convention that isn’t so hip-deep in advertising and sponsorship dollars that you can save yourself the trouble and just download press-releases all day. There’s only one convention that boasts 24-hour, round-the-clock, non-stop “stuff to do”. There’s only one convention that is run by fans, for fans.
And it is with this in mind that I noticed last year I spent about 80% of my time in the MMO Track, so I’ve volunteered and joined the staff.
Recently, Grim wanted the gang to start updating the track blog more, to keep a flow of information to help build and cement a community around the track. I suggested and volunteered for Saturday Morning Cartoons. If you know of any good MMO videos, be they music videos, comedy routines, awesome raid take downs, Easter eggs, or anything worth watching, especially if it’s for a game that isn’t WoW (no offence to WoW, but there is just so much for them that finding WoW-stuff is easy… not so much other games), let me know.
Another place I’m involved is in trying to track down guests, or companies that want to send us some swag to give away… if you happen to read my blog and Dragon*Con looks like fun to you and you happen to work in the MMO industry, let me know.
We’re about five months away from Dragon*Con 2010, and I’m more excited about it this year than I’ve ever been. This is going to be great!
For me, a “role playing” game, despite being short hand for a genre of games, has always meant a game where you, the player, get involved, care for the character and can influence the outcome. One of the largest aspects of role playing is the danger of losing. In MMOs this is often referred to as the “death penalty”.
Gordon wrote about it a couple of weeks ago, and Darren a few days ago. I’ve written about it too. And if you search around the Internet on the gaming blogs you’ll probably find hundreds of posts.
In my experience the best role playing games have at least a modest death penalty. More than just a few coins spent on repairs, or being set back a few seconds, but real almost tangible loss that you want to avoid.
My first real role playing game was, of course, Dungeons & Dragons. Because the game is so unstructured, being just a set of rules which your gaming is built upon, I’ve found that lots of people have lots of different experiences. If your Dungeon Master never actually reduced your player’s constitution when he got resurrected, then I don’t think you’ve ever really role played Dungeons & Dragons. If you never had a character die (and I mean really die, as in you might as well tear up the character sheet because that guy is not coming back, ever), then I don’t think you’ve ever really role played Dungeons & Dragons. If your character went from 1 to Demi-god without ever being in danger of being permanently hurt or sent to the circular file, then I don’t think you’ve ever really role played Dungeons & Dragons. That’s just me, but if you played without penalties, I don’t know if I would consider what you were doing to be role playing. You were just gaming. You were rolling dice while the DM told you a story.
Playing EverQuest, you put together a group (or joined someone else’s) and you went somewhere to complete a goal or just grind out some experience. If you died, you had to watch the exp bar retreat, possibly hours worth of advancement vanishing along with the pixels. You could recover the majority of that loss with a resurrection from a cleric (or later, other classes), but a bit of it was gone. Just gone. So, because of that reality, if you invited a player into your group who wouldn’t stop drawing aggro or sucked as a healer or in any number of ways exposed your group to death and loss, you kicked them out. And because of that reality, combined with that fact that most classes benefited greatly from being in groups, people tended not to be aggro drawing crappy healing death magnets for very long.
Many people will tell you that EQ didn’t have any role playing because people talked out of character or min/maxed numbers or whatever, but to me it will always be a role playing game because your character mattered. Your reputation, your wins and losses, it all effected how you were able to play the game. Within the confines of the defined computer controlled rules of gaming, you had to play a role in order to play the game. I remember a number of weeks I spent in Karnor’s Castle in EQ and there was this bard shouting for a group, and most of us who’d been around wouldn’t group with him. Every time he’d get into a group, he’d go AFK a lot. Sure, he’d leave on mana song or something, but he wasn’t doing crowd control, and his songs often pulled aggro off the tank on the pull, and when running was needed he wasn’t there, would have to be left behind, then he’d complain about the group getting him killed. So he spent most of his time looking for a group instead of being a group. Sure, his actions would eventually earn him the same level of ignoring in newer games that he got in EQ, but given the design of EQ, the fear of death, the shared spawns and grinding exp, he was very quickly rooted out, not because of how he played but because of how his play affected the play of others. Meanwhile, players who worked well with others and had a healthy respect for the loss of experience grouped well. Lasting friendships and guilds spawned from avoiding the penalties together.
Of course, not all MMOs need to be RPGs, but I believe what I have discovered over the past couple of years and what I am realizing now is that in the genre of MMOs I prefer the MMORPG. Many of the most recent MMOs don’t have much RPG in them (remember, I’m using RPG to actually mean role playing and not as shorthand for a genre of gaming features). Too many of them are too soloable, with too little penalty, with inevitable victories no matter how much I suck. Many of these MMOs are more like sports leagues for kids that don’t keep score, where everyone gets a trophy because everyone wins simply by showing up.
As always, I’m rambling, and I’m not even sure where I was going with this other than to empty onto the Internet another reason why I think I’m not being drawn into many MMOs anymore…
Lately, I’ve been diving into Facebook games so that I can see what they are all about. Overall, I’m fairly disappointed in a good number of them. Not in the game themselves, but in how they are implemented on Facebook.
I’m not new to online gaming. I’ve got an Xbox 360 and there are people on my friend list there that I met playing Left 4 Dead or Burnout Paradise or some other game. I’ve played MMOs and I know people from EverQuest and World of Warcraft and other games I’ve dabbled in. I understand, and actually desire, the need for other people. However, the way games integrate into Facebook, it requires me to be extra vigilant in how I handle my gaming friends.
In order to progress in most of these games, you need friends. I suppose you could spam messages out to all the people who are your real friends and beg them to play, but not everyone wants to play Facebook games, so it is not uncommon to need more game friends than your real friend list gets you. Most games, on their pages, have discussion boards where people can ask to be added as friends. Now, I can’t just add you as a FarmVille friend, I have to add you as a Facebook friend. Facebook does allow me to add people to lists, of which I have one called “Not” for people who are not my friends, and manage what they have access to and then I can hide them from my news feed so that I never see their stuff, but it just seems like hoops I am jumping through.
A perfect example of this is a game called Hero World. It is fun, if tedious at time, but the main element is that the number of people in your super team directly influences how powerful you are. So, people with more friends are more powerful. Scouring my list of real friends, I came up with 9 who wanted to play Hero World. With the max team size somewhere around 250, clearly my team was weak, and therefore I was weak. Moreover, I found that in order to buy bases and continue growing my own character I needed more friends. I utilized my “Not” group and made some new “friends”. Yay! I’m more powerful! And now I’m getting spam from people I don’t know!
Perhaps I’m just missing the point, perhaps I just don’t get it, perhaps I am becoming the old man screaming at the kids to get off his lawn, but to me a “friend” is someone I know. What passes for “friends” on Facebook just don’t seem to fit the definition. Facebook already makes a distinction between a friend and a fan, so why not allow someone to be application level friends where we can play a game together without the instant intimacy of being a “friend”?
Anyway… having been banging at some Facebook games for a while now, I’m going to start putting up reviews of them in the near future…
I saw this first from Raph, then Lum, and lastly Tesh, and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. A $20 donation through DriveThruRPG gets you $1,481.31 worth of gaming stuff. I have a healthy interest in games and game design, and just like most writers will tell aspiring writers that the best thing to do is read, most game designers will tell you that the best thing to do is play games. If you don’t have $20 to give, they’ll take and match any $5 and $10 donations. But hey, why not just go for $20 and get the free stuff?
Of all the IPs to be licensed, Dungeons & Dragons is actually the one where real money transactions (RMT, or microtransactions) make the most sense. Why? Because D&D has been doing microtransactions for decades. In fact, of all the games on the market, Wizard101 is the game that currently mirrors the pen & paper D&D model the closest.
Think about it… to start playing D&D, you need to buy a couple of rule books, namely the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s Handbook. With those two books and some dice, in theory, you never need to buy anything else to play. You can make all your characters, make your own dungeons and monsters, you can even make your own loot. Of course, not everyone is as skilled or as imaginative as everyone else, so D&D sells gaming modules which include a dungeon, monsters, loot, and perhaps even a city or town, story lines and quests and events. You need to buy each module to play each module (or at least someone in your gaming group needs to). This is pretty close to how Wizard101 functions, only the DMG and PH are free. Create an account, download and log in. You can play the first few areas of their world for free, and then you have to pay a small fee for additional areas. Of course, there are other things you can buy in the game, items and houses and whatnot, but if you just want to play the game, I believe currently you can get everything for around $80. For many MMOs you’ll pay $50 just for the game box and the first month, and at $15 a month, just three months in and you’ll have spent $80, and you can’t really finish all of most MMOs’ content in 90 days, so you’ll pay more.
Money amounts aside, however, DDO should have been built this way to start. The base game with a small number of dungeons, the base classes and whatnot should have been a fixed price, or even free. Then, much like games release expansions on Xbox Live, put out new dungeons, new modules, for a small fee every month or two. New classes could even be released for a small fee, much like how D&D puts out expanded books to introduce new classes. Perhaps they could have even run a hybrid model, charging players $1.99 or $2.99 a month for access to the game, and then $5-$20 per module (amount based on size of content).
Anyway, that’s just my thoughts. If they’d started with that design, perhaps they wouldn’t have had to switch to their new Free-to-Play/Pay-to-Advance model.