DFUW: A wolf in sheep's clothing.
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 November 2013, 5:44 pm
Syncaine has an interesting piece today about sheeps and wolves. It's an enjoyable post and I mostly agree with him. That said, he continues to draw a lot of his Darkfall conclusions based on his EVE experience.
Syncaine wrote:
What the vast majority of these players are looking for is actually a very PvE-focused, social (no not that kind of ‘social) experience, just with the flavoring of an open world and PvP. They don’t play in spite of the PvP, but they also don’t only play for it.
And that's where I strongly disagree with Syncaine. Darkfall is not simply EVE with swords. The games share some similarities, but the core audience for these game is very different. To illustrate this, let's go to the actual websites for both games and look at how they are marketed to gamers.

Darkfall is specifically marketed as the best PvP MMORPG you will ever experience. Whereas, EVE is marketed as a sandbox universe of unbounded opportunity that you can explore, roam or conquer.

Darkfall: Unholy Wars
Prepare for epic battles.  
Made for PVP!  
Hardcore gaming reinvented  
Do you have what it takes?
Darkfall Unholy Wars completely revolutionizes the concept of epic combat.

A game massive by design as well as concept, Darkfall Unholy Wars comes with a host of features, options, and game-styles for you to choose and discover as you travel through the rich, beautiful and deadly lands of Agon.

Find out how Unholy Wars can easily burn through the adrenaline that feeds even the most hardcore of gamers, and discover what makes it the best PvP MMORPG you will ever experience!

EVE Online
One universe to explore and conquer.  
Discover your future in the sandbox.  
Let your mind roam over EVE's creations.  
Be a capsuleer and experience something more.
In EVE, a universe of unbounded opportunity awaits new capsuleers, whether they lust after wealth, crave the fight or simply yearn for adventure among the stars.

Starting as a new pilot in a training frigate, players can choose from hundreds of skills to train and develop. The choice of skills to train is entirely up to the player. There are no mutually-exclusive branches in a skill tree that is both wide and deep. Over time, a character can be honed into a specialist or adapted for many situations.

The central difference is that one game, Darkfall, is a PVP game first and foremost.  While it has sandbox elements, you'll find that it doesn't actually market itself as a sandbox game.  EVE, on the other hand, is clearly a true sandbox and it openly advertises the fact that you have the opportunity to do anything you want within it's game world.

One game will have you "burn through the adrenaline" and the other would have you "let your mind roam over EVE's creations".

Darkfall: A world full of Wolves
The sheep versus wolf analogy, while a good one, is not a perfect fit for Darkfall. The reason is simple: Most players think they are a Wolves.

The game attracts wolves because it's marketed to wolves, so it's simply not a wolf-eat-sheep world. It's a wolf-eat-wolf world. Sometimes, the other wolf is bigger or meaner or simply luckier than you. And sometimes that means that you fulfill the sheep role in Syncaine's analogy while other times, you'll win and fulfill the wolf role.  If the other pack includes a bunch of big alpha males, you simply need to get more wolves in your pack to compete.

Darkfall, unfortunately, is currently not a place for the real sheep or would-be-sheeps. That's not because of all of us wolves. That's because it's a sandbox without any sand. Would it make for a better game if Darkfall had sand like EVE? Absolutely. But it's not currently in a state where you could simply selectively pick a couple of things that would magically make it attractive to sheep.  Quite literally, AV would need to build that part of the game from the ground up again to attract an entirely different player.

But I don't know that we need true sheep.  After all, the problem with Darkfall: Unholy Wars was never that it had too many wolves and not enough sheep.  Wolves, after all, can simply eat the other wolves.

A wolf in sheep's clothing.
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 November 2013, 5:08 pm
Syncaine has an interesting piece today about sheeps and wolves. It's an enjoyable post and I mostly agree with him. That said, he continues to draw a lot of his Darkfall conclusions based on his EVE experience.
Syncaine wrote:
What the vast majority of these players are looking for is actually a very PvE-focused, social (no not that kind of ‘social) experience, just with the flavoring of an open world and PvP. They don’t play in spite of the PvP, but they also don’t only play for it.
And that's where I strongly disagree with Syncaine. Darkfall is not simply EVE with swords. The games share some similarities, but I the core audience for these game is very different. To illustrate this, let's go to the actual websites for both games and look at how they are marketed to gamers.

Darkfall is specifically marketed as the best PvP MMORPG you will ever experience. Whereas, EVE is marketed as a sandbox universe of unbounded opportunity that you can explore, roam or conquer.

Darkfall: Unholy Wars
Prepare for epic battles.  
Made for PVP!  
Hardcore gaming reinvented  
Do you have what it takes?
Darkfall Unholy Wars completely revolutionizes the concept of epic combat.

A game massive by design as well as concept, Darkfall Unholy Wars comes with a host of features, options, and game-styles for you to choose and discover as you travel through the rich, beautiful and deadly lands of Agon.

Find out how Unholy Wars can easily burn through the adrenaline that feeds even the most hardcore of gamers, and discover what makes it the best PvP MMORPG you will ever experience!

EVE Online
One universe to explore and conquer.  
Discover your future in the sandbox.  
Let your mind roam over EVE's creations.  
Be a capsuleer and experience something more.
In EVE, a universe of unbounded opportunity awaits new capsuleers, whether they lust after wealth, crave the fight or simply yearn for adventure among the stars.

Starting as a new pilot in a training frigate, players can choose from hundreds of skills to train and develop. The choice of skills to train is entirely up to the player. There are no mutually-exclusive branches in a skill tree that is both wide and deep. Over time, a character can be honed into a specialist or adapted for many situations.

Darkfall: A world full of Wolves
The sheep versus wolf analogy, while a good one, is not a perfect fit for Darkfall. The reason is simple: Most players think they are a Wolves. And, honestly, they are wolves because they play like wolves. If the other pack includes a bunch of big alpha males, you simply need to get more wolves in your pack to compete.

The game attracts wolves because it's marketed to wolves, so it's simply not a wolf-eat-sheep world. It's a wolf-eat-wolf world. Sometimes, the other wolf is bigger or meaner or simply luckier than you. And sometimes that means that you fulfill the sheep role in Syncaine's analogy while other times, you'll win and fulfill the wolf role.

Darkfall, unfortunately, is currently not a place for the real sheep or would-be-sheeps. That's not because of all of us wolves. That's because it's a sandbox without any sand. Would it make for a better game if Darkfall had sand like EVE? Absolutely. But it's not currently in a state where you could simply selectively pick a couple of things that would magically make it attractive to sheep.  Quite literally, AV would need to build that part of the game from the ground up again to attract an entirely different player.

But I don't know that we need true sheep.  After all, the problem with Darkfall: Unholy Wars was never that it had too many wolves and not enough sheep.  Wolves, after all, can simply eat the other wolves.

DFUW: Theorycraft vs Pragmatism
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 November 2013, 4:02 pm

Discussions about game design often come from idealists who have grand opinions about how MMOs should work.  We need the idealists to be creative.  Big dreams lead to big ideas and innovations.

But we also need pragmatists.  Suggestion forums are always littered with the dreams of idealists because some ideas, while creative, are not practical to implement or don't solve for the underlying root problem.  Pragmatism is important because it uses prediction and problem-solving to understand the practical implication of a change.

The recent Darkfall controversy surrounding the "breaking of gear on gank" is a great example of where idealism fails in the face of pragmatism.  Simply put, while the idea may warrant some consideration, it's not a practical solution to the real problem facing Darkfall.

Producers, Consumers and Decomposers
A thriving MMO economy is much like an ecosystem, with Producers, Consumers and Decomposers.  All living things can be placed into one of these three categories.  Producers make products, Consumers use the products produced, and Decomposers break everything down.

Syncaine would argue that Darkfall needs more Decomposers.  As mentioned above, the concept is not necessarily flawed at it's core, since clearly that's how nature works.  But the problem with the economy goes much much deeper than a lack of Decomposers.  

Producers in Darkfall lack a variety in what they can produce.  As an armorer, you can make 7 different ranks of armor. There are no style variations.  The first four aren't viable for PVP and the last is too costly.  This leaves two ranks: Full Plate and Dreadplate that are worth crafting.  It's even worse for cloth wearers, who have two less ranks of armor available.

A common complaint here is that Darkfall is a sandbox without any sand.  Syncaine likes to draw inspiration from EVE but even the most simple ship in EVE has more complexity to it than an entire skill tree within Darkfall for crafters.  If you craft armor, your end-game is making 500 pieces of Dreadplate for the prowess feat.

Which leads me to the second major problem.  Producers also have an incentive to produce for reasons other than supply and demand.  A functioning economy is based on the principles of supply and demand.  The prowess system within Darkfall as it's currently implemented breaks this dynamic by providing an incentive to artificially increase supply.  

As you Produce, you earn prowess that can be used towards things that have nothing to do with Production.  Min/Maxers use crafting and harvesting as an easy way to farm prowess points that can be used towards PVP skills.  The net effect is that "raw, unrefined materials" are worth more than crafted items making it nearly impossible to turn a profit as a crafter.  

Exacerbating this problem, Consumers have little incentive "to do things" in-game that would result in the actual consumption of what is produced.  I'll speak to this again in a moment, but without things "to do" -- there is no need to use or consume.

There are other deeper issues as well.  Massive excesses from normal play of useless materials.  AFK activities that yield some of the largest wealth gains.  Consumables that are more expensive to make than armor.  Missing crafts like Enchanting.  And that's just those that come top of mind.

"Break on gank" is not the solution
The above is a really simple illustration that the problems plaguing the economy are much deeper than simply not having enough sinks or having too many faucets.

The central argument for advocating gear destruction is that it:
  • Eliminates excess gear that was produced
  • Forces people out into the world to harvest
  • If people are out in the world, PVP can find you and you can find PVP
  • It makes resources more valuable
The practical reality is a bit different, however.  First, not everyone has excess gear that needs to be eliminated.  The vast majority farm only what they need to consume.  As noted above, there is no need to consume, so (big surprise) things aren't getting consumed.

Secondly, the idea that forcing people to actively harvest will create PvP hotspots is inherently flawed because no harvesting activity in Darkfall is worth risking gear. People work to farm with minimal risk. This means using classes that can run away and/or gear that is sub-par for PVP.

I want to stress this second point because it's critical to understanding why turning "harvesting" whether it be mobs or resources, is not a great PVP solution.  The nature of a PVP game like Darkfall is to manage risk vs. reward.  Players will farm things in the most efficient and safest possible manner.

Some practical examples of how players manage risk:
  • The pretty standard and most accepted way of farming many high level mobs is to go naked, with a powerful bow.  Coupled with archery role (skirmisher) that has the greatest mobility, you can easily run away if someone jumps you.  It's very low risk, high reward.
  • When you farm resources, you either do it from a safe zone, you do it from the safety of your holding, or you do it naked with nothing more than your pick axe.  You can do all three of these things AFK.
  • AV introduced a sub-holding system called Villages which are on a daily timer and offered resources to the owner.  They made it possible to "steal" from these Villages in an effort to create PVP hotspots.  What actually happens is that people go "steal" naked and then go hide in a player-owned house behind a closed door.
The point here is that player behavior is such that simply forcing people to farm and harvest isn't going to get people to harvest or farm in a meaningful way that will make me want to encounter them for PVP.  Syncaine would have you believe that breaking gear would lead to people to farm more frequently.  In that, he's absolutely correct.  However, they wouldn't farm in such a way that would lead to meaningful PVP.

Players will work to minimize the risk as much as possible.  Few will farm for great gear in great gear.  The vast majority will do it as cheaply and easily as possible and fill the world with naked farmers and harvesters who hug safe zones and run away from fights.  Oh sure, it's rewarding in it's own way to "farm the farmers" but  forcing more people to endure the cycle of grief that comes from forced harvesting is hardly the solution to a declining population.

It's not the economy, stupid.
Clearly, the economy is broken in Darkfall.  It lacks depth and it's not welcoming to the "pure" crafter. Is it "A" problem? Yes.  Is it "THE" problem?  No.

If you read my entry after the beta NDA was lifted, I wrote:
By the third month, [AV] better have something new or anyone without a strong vision for the game is going to lose interest. [...] Right now, the potential problem is that there simply isn't enough interesting things "to do" when not sieging to keep people logged in.
The 'lack of things to do' is a statement that every long-term player has recognized as the core problem since beta.  The population decline was easily predictable.

The idea that 'breaking gear' is going to solve for population decline is laughable.  You don't have to look any farther than the Forumfall reactions to The Loot Nazi that I posted Tuesday to understand that this idea is toxic and will drive players away from the game.

And how many will come back because it's introduced as a new feature? I don't know a single person who would come back for this reason.  We even have a thread on our private clan forums asking what will bring people back -- this isn't mentioned once.

In fact, other than the 'not enough sand in the sandbox' comments because of the lack of things to craft or build, the economy is not mentioned at all.  Is the economy broken?  Yes.  But "faucets and sinks" are not actually the area that needs the most attention.  These just need a band-aid to stop the bleeding and then AV needs to turn it's attention to things that WILL bring players back.

Part of the irony is that Darkfall already has a "gear break" sink in the game in the form of durability.  As you use armor and weapons, it degrades by consuming durability which is lost forever.  There are no 'repairs' -- if you use your sword until it breaks, it's gone.  I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that simply providing people more things to do (which everyone does want) would naturally increase the rate at which items break.

AV has already said they plan to address the biggest concern players have about the economy (which is scraping that has led to players being able to AFK quite a bit of wealth).  They are moving that resource (treasure maps) to mobs.  This is a great start and the only really pressing need with the economy itself.

Reduces incentive to PVP
In Syncaine's blog post on Sunday, he wrote:
Forumfall had (and is still having) an epic hissy fit. [The] most common and perhaps most idiotic: “Removing items from a grave would reduce the incentive to PvP"
It's interesting that he calls this reaction both common and idiotic. It demonstrates both his disdain for the rest of the community and how truly disconnected he is from them.

The incentive to PVP is actually a very valid concern.

As I pointed out above, much of this game is about managing risk.  Knowing the other guy is wearing a 70k gear bag is all the reason I need to risk my 70k bag to go kill him.  That dynamic starts to change if you devalue the worth of that bag and it grows exponentially as people trade bags back and forth.

In some of the truly great and most epic fights, it's not uncommon for gear bags to be traded frequently.  If I just lost my 70k gear bag, if I can, I'll re-gear and try to catch the guy before he can bank it. In group fights, this is actually VERY common.

We had a series of fights the other night between one of our holdings and a chaos stone where an enemy group was camped.  The same gear bags were traded back/forth at least three times.  We pushed when we shouldn't have pushed to get those bags back.  They pushed when they shouldn't have pushed to get their gear bags back.

If, as Syncaine had proposed, a portion of the contents of those bags was destroyed each time a person would have been ganked, not only would we not have continued the fight, but we all would have ended up fighting naked.

Carson commented on my last blog post that:
I find it interesting that the main objection is not "I don't want my shit to break when I die!" but rather "I don't want some other guy's shit to break when I kill him, and stop me from looting it!"
Now consider that the guy I'm trying to kill just looted my clan-mates bag and I am attempting to retrieve it for him.  And that my goal is to stop, stall or gank that guy to keep him from banking that bag.  I'll risk more and try harder because I am A LOT more motivated to stop him.

If 50% of the stuff in my clan mates's original bag was lost on the death, and then 50% again when I gank the enemy to get it back -- there may be only 25% of the clan members contents left in the bag.  To say that's not a serious de-motivator for PVP is to simply not understand how PVP works in Darkfall.

A game centered on PVP demands solutions to PVP
No one needs a reason to PVP other than the "full loot" nature of the game.  As I wrote above, that's all the incentive that is often needed to keep people pushing hard at each other.

What we DO need is to know where players are so that we can engage them. We need more timed events that attract players and act as neon sign that say PVP IS HERE.

Right now, there are three types of timed events:
  • Sieges.  These are player initiated.  There are some issues here, mainly with siege performance, but for the most part they still function well for the intended purpose of creating a PVP hotspot.
  • Villages.  Completely broken as implemented.  As noted above, the stealing mechanic is broken.  AV has re-vamped this system several times.  There is a good suggestion coming out of MVP forums that I think is perhaps too infrequent and unnecessarily complicated, but it's a start.
  • Sea Towers.  These work excellent.  Every sea tower fight gets a lot of PVP and more resources are destroyed from ships sinking and wasted consumables than gained by the winner of the tower.
In my mind, the optimal solution here is to make villages a sort of mini- land based version of the Sea Towers.  That's more or less what the MVP solution is, so this is promising.

I'm also a big advocate for more directional things that would encourage players to go do a specific PVE activity.  Again, the idea here is BIG NEON SIGNS telling people to GO HERE.  

For example, a weekly feat for the dungeons.  Or some turn-in that only drops off one of the mobs located on a specific sub-continent.  These things might be a bit cheesy, but they do get people moving to the same general area and that's the type of thing that will spark a ton of PVP at portal chambers and nearby Chaos banks.  As I said, AV needs to add "things to do" and more "things to do".

As for scarcity, you don't need a massive sink.  All you need to do is make that turn-in valuable for things consumed in PVP.  If I can go kill mobs, get this thing off them, and turn them in for Greater Rejuv potions or good food?  I'll happily go hunt the bastards down and kill them and anyone farming them.

Full Disclosure
I've kept my in-game identity separate from my blogging identity.  In-game, I actively lead what continues to be arguably the largest and most active clan on NA1.  At one point, we had over 200 actives and an in-game clan roster of 400 including alts.  We were involved in a siege two days ago and we fielded 40.  If you play DFUW, you likely recognize that I am describing Imperium.

Imperium is a great clan and our structure is such that I'm not the only leader (nor am I the founder).  I am, however, one of the most influential and longest standing leaders.  If you are reading this and you are in Imperium, I'm sure you've can put 1+1 together but I'd ask that you keep my in-game identity to yourselves.

I mention this because I know why my clan members joined the game, and, over time, why they left the game and even why some have returned. I understand why people are motivated to play this game.  I'm not relating theories.  I'm speaking from the practical experience of managing and keeping one of the most active clans in Darkfall to continue to be active.

No Loot for You!
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 November 2013, 10:20 pm
The Loot Nazi
Image credits to Ele Goulding
It may be every gaming bloggers dream to have the ear of a game developer who actually listen to your ideas and considers implementing them.

It's the MMO blogging equivalent of striking the mother lode or winning the lottery.

So you can imagine how our dear friend, Syncaine, must have felt to be invited to the exclusive MVP forum by Averturine to discuss the current and future game state of Darkfall: Unholy Wars.

I respect Syncaine and enjoy his blog.  He makes some good points and he is a good advocate for a more common sense type of MMO that I enjoy.  If not for him, I would never have even tried Darkfall 1 and later Darkfall: Unholy Wars.

So it's with this perspective that I begin my narrative. I'll post another blog entry in a day or so on my opinions, but this post will mostly be about a blogger and his dream.

Our story begins with the creation of an exclusive club:
[...] we have created the MVP forum, a private invitation-only forum section for discussions featuring direct developer participation. The first wave of invites has been sent to a diverse group of players, and more will follow.
-Tasos Flambouras, founder of Aventurine

Invitations were private and who was an MVP member with "direct developer" interaction was unknown. The first rule of the club: Don't talk about who is in the club. Now if the secretive nature of the MVP club seems like a bad idea to you -- you aren't alone.
MVP forums are essentially telling me, the average player, that my opinion is worthless.
-Valnak, subscriber and non-MVP member

We have since learned that within MVP forum, the following idea was circulated to the MVP community for feedback by one of the game's developers:
On the gear sink front, the idea of items getting damaged when a player is ganked had been circulated in the office for a while now and we feel it’s a step in the right direction. This does not hurt the willingness of players of any wealth to gear up and go out since when they are ganked, their items, especially the valuable ones, are more than likely looted or lost in the fray. There are some options here and we would like your feedback on them.

One is whether only equipped items or all items, including ones in the inventory, should receive the durability hit. Another option would be choosing between a flat x% chance of an item breaking or items receiving a flat durability hit and if that takes them to zero durability, then they break.

We also thought of replacing items that reach zero durability with their broken versions. This would however lessen the effect we are trying to achieve by creating an influx of materials so we have decided against it.
-Vangelis, an AV game developer

By all reports, Syncaine seized upon this idea and EleGoulding, an MVP member, described his reaction within the MVP forum:
The idea was one of many that got tossed around, it wasn't the main priority of discussion until Syn Caine started bringing it up every other post.
-EleGoulding, an MVP member
Now the idea of a gear sink in Darkfall is not a new one and it already exists in the form of durability. As items are used, whether through PvP or PvE, item durability is consumed.  There is no repair, so when an item breaks, it disappears from your inventory. Weapons, in particular, degrade quite quickly and armor degrades at a moderate rate.

The central issue at the moment is that very few players are actively doing anything other than PvP and even this is limited to duels and maybe one skirmish a night.

Uzik, another MVP forum member, leaked a snippet of his argument with Syncaine in the MVP forums:

Here is how retarded this gear grind logic is.
They are saying:
-People have lots of gear in their banks
-People don't log into Darkfall because they have too much gear
-Therefore if people had less gear, they would log in and play more

This is the reality:
-People have nothing to do in game
-People don't log into the game
-People have lots of gear in their banks because no one is playing, and those who are playing don't do anything
-Therefore if people had more things to do they would lose more gear

MAKING GEAR HARDER TO GET WILL NOT ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO PVP. If you don't encourage people do play the population will continue to dwindle. AV NEEDS TO ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO PVP AND ACTIVELY PLAY THE GAME.
-Uzik, an MVP member

Now, as previously noted, this discussion happened behind closed doors in the MVP forums. AV released a lackluster patch this last week and the community was pretty upset about it. In reaction, AV allowed the MVP forums to shed their anonymity and share with the rest of the community the things that had been discussed.

I do not believe the reaction they received is the one they hoped to achieve. The first comment against the gear destruction on gank was relatively benign from a Forumfall newbie.

Sounds good, but the only thing i have a problem with is when some items are destroyed when you Gank someone, that sucks :( im sure there are plenty of other ways to have gold sinks and item sinks.
-Blackmeat, 20 posts, joined May 2013
Syncaine was quick to respond:
Such as? Keep in mind the extent of the sink needed here, it has to be fairly massive.

Sinks are difficult to viewed as a short-term positive because the initial reaction is "you are taking stuff away from me!" , but without them most aspects of an MMO simply don't work. It can sometimes be difficult to see the long-term benefits of a properly balanced economy, but current DF:UW is a good example of what happens when you don't have one. The lack of motivation to farm mobs, fight over holdings/villages/sea towers, the underutilized market, the stagnation in crafting; all of these things exist today primarily because DF:UW lacks a sink big enough to counteract the many faucets we have.
-Syncaine, author of Hardcore Casual
Massive? Huh? IMO, this is one of the first signs that Syncaine is disconnected from the rest of the Darkfall community. At no point has anyone brought up the need of a 'massive' sink.

It's also clear he doesn't understand the cause-and-effect relationship about why people don't fight mobs, fight over holdings (??), use the market or stagnation in crafting. I'll write about why he's wrong in another post but it's obvious to everyone who still plays that "gear destruction on gank" is not a central issue that needs to be addressed to retain, attract or bring back players.

The next few posts are from people who have now been revealed as MVP members and it's obvious that they've discussed this already on the MVP forums.

Jonah Viel, one of the most well known and respected PVPers in the game and whose "balance" posts on PVP are widely regarded as the most well-thought out cuts right to the crux of the issue.
The problem with Unholy Wars was never gear not leaving fast enough.

It is the fact that we all were allowed to harvest in safezones for rare essences and as such, the market is ruined.

If you want to actually FIX the economy, it's either with a wipe and new rules (not every 3 months btw, that is an awful idea, no offense to whoever came up with it, but that is really horrible), or with introducing new loot that people all need.
-Jonah[fataLity], non-MVP member
For Forumfall, it's mostly been a positive discussion to this point. There are some concerns, but overall, people like what they have read about the other changes. Then it starts to take a turn for the worse.
It's totally deflating that anyone would suggest implementing a feature like this. It's quite possibly one of the worst ideas I've seen circulated around these forums. It completely violates the principle of risk vs reward, which is the heart of Darkfall.
-bsrge, 90 posts
My opinion on this is that the gear break idea is a bad idea. Here's why, it doesn't solve the problem. Will gear breaking on gank make people come back? Resounding no. Is it going to solve the economy problem? No.
-Cyber-Hick, 800+ posts
As many mentioned the idea of losing durability when ganked totally sucks in my opinion. This is our reward for going out and killing our enemies. Broken armors and weapons as reward? This is the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
- AseldingVentus, 1000+ posts
How is a durability hit on gank even up for discussion? How the fuck is that a priority at all at the moment? All that will do is devalue the full loot system. So frustrating.
- Sumdyar_VZ, 1000+ posts
When the hottest topic coming out of the MvP forums is "gear break on gank" instead of fixing easily fixable issues that have been plaguing the game since early beta there is a huge problem.
The suggestion forums were doing just fine before the MvP forums. After this latest "gear break on gank" fiasco, the MvP forums is a joke to me. I don't want people like SynCaine having "higher value input" in what gets implemented into the game, when the guy played maybe a year of df1.
-Dim Mok, founder of Sick Bastards
Can't believe people are actually even considering this... It's fucking stupid. Add real shit to the game please. Better yet just Buff villages, stealing, mob drops.
-Erock, 1000+ posts
I don't like the idea of being forced to 'destroy' things simply to get rid of them. Positive incentive through creation is a better sink for a sandbox. Add new tiers of armor that required the lower tiers as part of the mats.
- rhodric, 80 posts
All I can say is if they actually do implement it then truly AV is intentionally trolling us...
-Mycke, an MVP member
I think you've demonstrated well enough that exactly what we thought was going to happen with the MVP forums indeed did happen; where they admit people who have terrible opinions (and run blogs filled with terrible opinions, in your case) and then hold their terrible opinions to an undeserved level of status.
- Abaratican, 5000+ posts
I fear the MVP forum will do more harm than good if this is a serious topic. Embarrassing, they clearly choose people that don't create constructive input, but better yet volume posters who have put on a big show.
-Degmara (Tony Yayo), member since 2003
The fact that AV is even considering something like gear destruction on ganks before addressing the real problem is quite upsetting.
-Dhalsim, 300 posts
Syncaine said its a good idea.. And I don't know if you are aware of this but he has a blog and holds the record for bringing people into Darkfall(Im sure that the top notch PVP videos being released by the like of Jonah Veil did nothing for the game)
Fix the game before making such drastic changes that could take away from PVP value. If they get people into the world with smart development and there is still an abundance of gear lets revisit the idea then.
-Synik, 3000+ posts
No one wants SynCaine and Xipher to represent them. I mean honestly, who here can say they have EVER had any substantial interaction in-game with either of them?
I don't even know if SynCaine even played DF1 or DFUW for a good amount of time. MVP's were supposed to be pillars of the community who could represent the best interest of the players, not just advance their own playstyles.
-Uzik, an MVP forum member

For the sake of fairness to Syncaine, I left out most of the comments that were far more harsh in their criticism of him personally and his credentials. The essence here is that this 'gear break' topic has had a significant backlash and Syncaine has largely taken the brunt of the attacks since he has been acting as the idea's biggest advocate. I have to think that given the high hopes for "developer interaction" that he must have had upon getting into the MVP forums, this reaction from the community must be a very bitter pill to swallow.

Right now, he is perhaps the most villified and hated person on the Darkfall forums.

And the simple truth of the matter is -- he's wrong.

It's not that the concept of gear breakage is necessarily flawed at it's core. It's that it's too late to make these kinds of changes and it's simply not a change that will bring people back to the game.

Quite the opposite, it's a polarizing change that will drive players away from the game. That's the worst possible thing for Darkfall right now. Particularly since the "economy" is not the most broken part of the game. This is blindingly obvious to those of us who still regularly play but not so obvious to those who mainly theorycraft on their blog about how MMOs should work under ideal conditions.

The lack of a "gear-break" feature is also not the cause of the current problems that plague Darkfall. There are a host of other reasons why the economy is broken in Darkfall that have nothing to do with scarcity of resources.

I'll address that claim in a future post, but for now, let me just say that the economy is not simply broken because of sinks and faucets. The economy is broken because it lacks depth and crafters can't make a profit.

DFUW: A couple of videos...
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 October 2013, 6:08 pm
This is a pretty clever Darkfall video that I thought was worth a re-share.  I'm still playing DFUW very regularly - which is surprising since I've been playing since beta and expected to be bored with it a few months after release at most.

On the subject of Darkfall itself, I find that the game is best suited for people who like to play FPS games and want to evolve their gaming to an MMO.  If that describes you, I think you'll love the game.

The above video doesn't really describe the gameplay.  The below video is a better example of how combat plays out in DFUW.   It's not the most exciting video ever made (that's not why I chose it) but it's a good example of how you need to squirm and aim.

You will notice that after someone is downed, they aren't actually out of it until someone takes the time to stop and gank them.  This forces them to release and anything they were carrying is lootable.

For the most part, I hate DF videos because they really don't represent the game well.  That combat is vastly more immersive than anything you'll experience in any other MMO.   You don't have visibility behind you, you have to aim to hit, it's easy to miss a shot or overlook something, and if you die and get ganked -- you lose something very tangible.  

That said, you don't lose so much that you couldn't recover from it in a few hours or even a single encounter when if you kill/gank/loot someone. 

Darkfall Unholy Wars: The MMO that shouldn't be compared to other MMOs
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 April 2013, 5:24 am
Darkfall: Unholy Wars launched on Steam recently and I understand that a lot of the poster comments have been less than favorable.  Many of which say things like "don't buy it, this game takes MMOs backwards" or some such nonsense.

Unfortunately for AV, Darkfall Unholy Wars is suffering from the reputation of the original Darkfall.  The irony is that the thing that made DF1 so grindy was the progression system and that's actually part of what is making the game extremely fun in Unholy Wars.

Darkfall is NOT an MMO
OK, well it is an MMO. But my point is that if you are thinking of trying Darkfall, you shouldn't think of it as an MMO. I wrote this on Syncaine's blog tonight in the comments of his review:

If you like FPS games, if you like MMOs, if you like PvP, and if you like banding together with others — there isn’t a better game that combines all of these things that exists.

Darkfall is a misunderstood beast because people want to label it as just an MMO and then hold it up for comparison against other MMOs.

Honestly, that’s just a very small part of the appeal. Many of the people actually playing Darkfall come from more skill-based games like FPS shooters. That’s why bloggers like Tobold don’t “get” the Darkfall concept — they compare it to WoW and EvE when they should also be comparing it to entirely different games (like Tribes and WWII Online).

To be honest, Syncaine doesn’t really help the cause because he draws a lot of his own comparisons to other MMOs including EvE. This game has almost nothing in common with EvE — it’s so NOT EvE that I find the comparison ludicrous.

It’s a shame because you have a lot of DF haters posting on Steam because they are thinking of this game entirely in the context of an MMO. It’s that, for sure, but it’s also these other things. 
Adding on to what I wrote in his comments, there are things that exist (and work!) in a game like Darkfall that wouldn't work in other games because the game is designed around certain PvP concepts.  It's simply not accurate to say, "well, we can compare this feature to other MMOs and know it doesn't work" -- because it DOES work in Darkfall because the game is DESIGNED FOR IT TO WORK.

The best example of this is "full loot" PvP.  Scary stuff, right?  Nope.  The game is designed to be easy to lose and easy to gain.  I've farmed a few sets a gear, lost a few sets of gear, and battle looted a few sets of gear.  That's simply how the game is designed.  And it simply wouldn't work right if it wasn't designed that way.

Why Darkfall is the MMO that isn't like other MMOs
If you have read any of my blog postings over the years, you'll know that one of the things I despise is when people place labels on games to attempt to put them in a box.

Darkfall can't be placed in a single box.

WoW is it's own box.  EvE is it's own box.  Darkfall is neither -- it's something different and deserves it's own box.  Sure, it has some familiar MMO parts, but it also has parts from completely other genres.  It has just as much in common with skill-based first person shooters as it does with any other MMO.

Combat is far faster paced than a normal MMO and it's not easy.  But it's not always about the individual skill level, it's often about the skill level of the group.  It's a very dynamic game where the objectives and goals are more oriented at PvP.

A game built for PvP
If you don't enjoy the PvP experience, don't unfairly toss your opinions on a game whose entire design is built around making a fun PvP experience.  Shame on you for casting disparaging remarks about a game that's simply not meant for you.

That's really my point of this blog post.  Darkfall is for people who enjoy PvP, who enjoy MMOs, who enjoy fast and skill-based FPS combat, and who enjoy grouping with others to form a common cause.

In this way, the game is unique and as an MMO community we should be fostering the development of these types of games rather than trying to criticize a game that's not entirely in the MMO genre.

Darkfall Unholy Wars: Prowess & Character Progression
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 April 2013, 1:59 pm
I am a big believer that RPGs are largely driven by character progression.  In MMOs, the dial gets turned up even further because the shared world experience breeds competition between players. This won't hold true for everyone, but I do believe it holds true for the vast majority.  In the PvP game, character progression also leads to an advantage in PvP and the "reward" for progressing your character is more tangible in that it allows you to vanquish your enemies more easily.

In other words, in a game like Darkfall, the motivation dial to make your character as powerful as quickly as possible is set to a very high setting.  The more effective you are at character development, the more viable you are at PvP.

The problem with original Darkfall Online (DF1)
Not to be confused with Darkfall Unholy Wars, DF1 is the original Darkfall that was launched back in 2009 and closed it's servers in 2012 in preparation for it's successor, Darkfall: Unholy Wars (DF:UW).

In the original, characters were progressed by "skilling up" an ability by actually using that ability. If you wanted to be better at melee combat, you needed to get out there and swing that sword. Pretty much everything could be skilled up -- even mundane things like Swimming and Sprinting.

In addition to skill gains, there were stat gains. Unlike other games, wearing armor only provided better protection, it didn't provide more stats.  In fact, without the stats for it -- you simply couldn't wear the armor.

You will hear other reasons why people may not have played DF1 but many of those reasons will be opinions about a style of gaming that player simply doesn't like to play.  Ultimately, the problem with DF1 came down to two major flaws:
  • It's exploitable through macros. Players quickly learned that if they just setup a script or macro to have themselves swim in a circle, it would yield them stat gains.  The more hardcore players would "blood wall" and set up macros where they attacked each other without delivering a killing blow.  Looped endlessly overnight, these macros would progress players without them doing any actual work.
  • Exacerbating the above problem, the grind was incredible. I am not a casual player and I played for 3 solid hardcore months and still barely progressed my character.  It simply wasn't worth the effort to continue playing particularly if the only way to "catch up" was to use macros.
The problems I am describing here are deeply rooted and linked to why players who otherwise enjoyed the game quit.  They simply didn't want to keep a computer logged in macro'ing for 8 hours a night in order to be competitive. 

The early beta solution in Darkfall Unholy Wars (DF:UW)
At the start of Unholy Wars beta in December, the above system still existed but the developers had taken some steps to mitigate the problem.  Aventurine had eliminated skill-ups for things like Swimming and Sprinting but it still existed for things like combat swings.  Since this was "on use" skill-ups, you absolutely could still "blood wall' with another player for easy gains.

Aventurine further mitigated the macro problem by reducing the grind.  Since the number of skills needed to max was reduced and the speed at which those skills level was increased -- such macro'ing was believed to only provide a short-term gain and casuals could eventually catch up with normal play.

They also introduced a new system called Prowess.  As you completed certain things, you gained Prowess.  This Prowess could be used to buy things like a "booster" which increased your stats for your class.  Maximizing your character progression in the early beta took a combination of Prowess and skill-ups.

Feedback was VERY positive on the Prowess system but continued to be very negative regarding the ability to continue to be able to macro and blood wall.  It was suggested in the beta forums that this Prowess system be the primary method of developing your character -- not the old skill-up "on use" system from DF1.

The new Prowess system in Darkfall Unholy Wars (DF:UW)
And Aventurine listened. Based on the beta feedback, they revised the whole system to be entirely based on Prowess rather than the old DF1 system of skill-ups based "on use" of that particular skill.  In that one act, they completely eliminated the macro'ing problem from DF1.  This was a big change and in fairness to AV, a big contributing factor to why the beta lasted as long as it did.  

Under the new system, you must "earn" Prowess by completing meaningful actions (harvesting, crafting, killing creatures, and completing feats).  These points, once earned, can be used to purchase your skill (or stat) gains.

Unlike Syncaine, I don't think it's a brand new idea. The feats, in particular, bear a striking resemblance to Achievements and even Quests.  You can argue how it's different until you are blue in the face but it doesn't change the fact that attempting to kill X creatures feels exactly the same.  Likewise, we have seen point allocation systems in other games.  I am reminded or the Renown Points in Warhammer Online and how they  are used to buy Renown Rewards to increase Strength and Weapon skill from the trainer.  

That said, I think what is perhaps unique about this progression system is the depth to which it is implemented throughout the game.  It's also a very tidy "sandboxy" solution to a significant problem.

My biggest criticism about the new system is that I felt the progression went, ironically, too quickly.  In turns out that some of my concern may have been related to circumstances that only existed in beta.  Specfically, for much of the beta, "resistances" were not in on the creatures so they effectively were wearing no armor.  Shortly before end of beta, all the resistances went back in -- and the difficulty level scaled up as a result.

So -- progression will be slower as a result.  How slow?  That's hard to say and it may still be too fast.  But almost assuredly, players will speed past whatever expectations Aventurine has on the progression.  As I said at the top of the blog post, in a PvP centric game like Darkfall - the dial doesn't get any higher in the "race" for progression.  

Let the Prowess race begin.

Darkfall Unholy Wars: The myth behind the polarizing labels
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 8 April 2013, 6:18 pm
If you have read my blog or comments on other blogs over the years, one of the things I despise is how often MMO pundits toss out "labels" on games.  I prefer to think the actual truth of a game lies within the features that comprise that game and not some "label" that is tossed out to force a game into some box.

Darkfall: Unholy Wars is a prime example of labels in action.  It will be described as both a "sandbox" game and as a "hardcore pvp" game.  As such, it will be compared to EvE ad nauseum and success or failure, you'll hear all about why people don't want a "hardcore pvp" game.

Bullshit. Darkfall is no more like EvE than it's like WoW.  

The similarity between EvE and Darkfall can be summed up in the following way - these are games without a story. That's it.

Even here, both games take a radically different approach. EvE is largely about empire building and actual PvP is very rare. In many ways, PvE and crafting is more central to the EvE universe and the game has more in-common with Minecraft than Darkfall.

In Darkfall, the game centers around the PvP. Crafting, as it exists, serves only to create a value of sorts for the zero-sum PvP.  Darkfall is not an empire building game any more than it's a PvE raiding game.  

Darkfall is a fast-paced shooter style MMO with a focus on controlling specific bind points through PvP.  In other words, it's a conquest game that has as much in common with a persistent world-wide version of Arathi Basin as it does EvE's sandbox game.

In other words, start with elements of EvE (city building) and elements of the classic control-point scenario (like Arathi Basin).  Mix them all up and put them in a large persistent world.  Then throw in some first-person style arcade combat and zero-sum PvP.  That's Darkfall.

If DF:UW fails, the reasons will have nothing to do with so-called "hardcore PvP"

Wait, you say, EvE also has zero-sum PvP.  Umm, kinda.  

There is loss in EvE, for sure, but it's not zero-sum (which means winner-takes-all).  It's a winner-take-some scenario because some items are destroyed.  Also, it's relatively rare.  The loss is something to be feared and protected against.

In Darkfall, PvP truly is a zero-sum game. Often labeled as "hardcore PvP" what most people don't understand about such PvP is that because it's zero-sum, it's just as possible to GAIN as it is to LOSE.

Zero-sum, by definition, means that if one person loses 10 gold, then another person gains 10 gold.  The problem with the original Darkfall was not the zero-sum PvP, it was that there was such a vast gap between the veteran and the new player that the new player was always the one to lose the 10 gold.

This is an important distinction because it's not zero-sum PvP that poses the problem but the relative balance between players that leaves one player at a significant advantage.  A problem that has since been corrected in Unholy Wars.  New players can and will become viable in PvP very quickly.

The myths of zero-sum PvP

The biggest misconception about zero-sum PvP is that there is this monumental loss when you lose your items. In other games, gear progression is an important form of character progression and it's not uncommon to spend weeks and weeks to try and get that one key drop.

There are no make or break drops in Darkfall.  Ever single usable item can be crafted and farming for those items is no more of a time sink than harvesting some mats for your typical crafting profession.  In fact, most of the "time sink" comes from leveling the skill to craft the item and not the harvested mats.

Instead, you see a different dynamic that is based on people managing their own level of risk. You don't always go out in your best gear.  You save that for the special events.  And sometimes, you wear bad gear on purpose because you don't want to take the durability hit on higher cost items.

It's a game of easy come and easy go. Everyone loses gear and the game is designed in such a way that individual losses are not monumental.

NDA Lifted: Beta Tester impressions of Darkfall Unholy Wars
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 April 2013, 4:45 pm
AV lifted the NDA this morning on Darkfall: Unholy Wars and the release date is set for April 16th.  You
can expect me to be posting a lot more actively now that I can speak freely about the game I have been beta testing for 5 months.

Yes, a 5 month beta.  Normally in these types of posts you get "first impressions" of a game.  My first impressions were gone many many months ago.  To put this in perspective, I played the original DF1 for 3 months so my "beta" experience with Unholy Wars is already 2 months longer than the original game.

It was a long beta and Tasos had one ask as he lifted the NDA: to comment on the game as it exists today and not on issues that were addressed earlier in beta.  I think that's a very fair request.

The first month will be incredible.
The second month may start to stall.  And by the third month, they better have something new or anyone without a strong vision for the game is going to lose interest.

In other words, par for the course with every other MMO that has launched in the last billion years.  That said, I'll make a caveat -- that first month will be worth the price of the game.  If you like PvP, it's going to be fun times and worthwhile.

Also, it's worth pointing out that interest isn't going to start waning immediately and mileage will vary depending on how actively you play.  Also, there are pieces expected at launch (dungeons, in particular) that could be introduced to keep players interested longer than I'm anticipating.

Not enough sand in the sandbox...
The problem, in a nutshell, has nothing to do with the "hardcore" nature of this game. I'll speak to this in a future post but this is mostly a red herring thrown out there by people who would never truly enjoy a game like Darkfall.

The problem lies in that progression is very fast for "characters" and mind-numblingly slow for everything else. This is incredibly ironic if you were at all familiar with the original Darkfall, but the net of the problem is this..

In these types of conquest games, players need things to do when they aren't out conquesting. Right now, the potential problem is that there simply isn't enough interesting things "to do" when not sieging to keep people logged in.

This isn't inherently obvious to someone who hasn't spent a lot of time in the latest beta round that introduced the new "prowess" system for character advancement. All due respects to Syncaine and his opinions, but I'm fairly confident that I have logged 4-5 times the hours he has in this latest beta (having played it full-time).

For many players, the biggest "thing to do" draw is improvement to become more viable at PvP.  Early game, the new prowess system is going to be a big draw and feel very rewarding.  It's also going to create a lot of competition for important mob spawns. This is going to make for some fantastic PvP and a real sense of accomplishment during the first month.

And then that will end.  Around 100k prowess, there will be an effective prowess cap for your role that means you'll gain very little benefit for further character improvement.   In other words, you will still have choices but the level of effort required will likely not be worth the gain.  [EDIT: To be clear, I'm not implying this is "grindy" -- I'm saying you are effectively almost "maxxed" within that role for the purposes of PvP.]

There are still other choices, of course, what gear to wear, what to siege, and so forth but the main motivating force that keeps people logged in will be minimized.  That's a problem.  Because in order for you to have PvP, you need to have people.

A game of conquest!
The counter-argument you will hear is that Darkfall is about conquest, sieges and crafting.  Crafting, in it's current state, lacks the "bones" in which to build a strong economy.  That's the backbone of EvE, but it's not the backbone of Unholy Wars and needs considerable work if that's the intent.

On sieges, I absolutely agree and these are extremely fun.  That's not the issue.  The issue is -- players will log on for a siege -- then log off once it's over.  Any "spontaneous" PvP will be virtually non-existant and largely consist of 15 bored guys rolling into a city that has 2-3 semi-AFK harvesters.

And to be clear, PvP is the goal.  The content that needs to be added should drive PvP and come in the form of "hotspots" that bring people together for a fight.  My criticism here is something needs to be added that is rewarding in such a way that people will congregate in areas that will allow PvP to flourish.

On Aventurine...
I want to comment briefly on AV.  It's obvious this isn't a big budget company and I admire what they are able to accomplish with limited resources.  It requires a different approach, one that is more iterative in that pieces of the puzzle are slowly added into the mix.

You do need to be comfortable with the idea that the game will always be a work-in-progress. That's true of all MMOs but particularly true here where the budgets are small.  This approach does work and I do think it results in a better game but it requires patience from players which is often in short supply.

Fortunately, I do have patience and do believe in the vision.  It's a fun game and I do plan to continue playing many months after launch.  But I'm also not most people..

And thus, my prediction that unless something new is introduced (which is possible) players are going to hit the same "lack of content" wall that they hit with every other game.

Group Lurkers: The silent MMO majority
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 March 2013, 5:02 pm
Call it "cracking the code" but I think I understand what the "masses" really want out of an MMO.  They want what I would call Group Lurking.  

Players want to be grouped and play with others — this is why they are playing online — but they don't always want the convention of interacting socially with others. In other words, they want the interaction and benefits of grouping without actually having to invest in interacting.

In almost every online community, the vast majority of people are lurkers.  Why would we assume this is different in MMOs?  While that may seem illogical, all evidence seems to point towards this being true even in MMO communities.  The "silent majority" want to group but they also want to remain silent. 

Voice chat / communications
To find your first group of lurkers, look no further than the voice comms of your clan or guild.  How many of the people in your comms don't talk?  In every guild, the "talkers" are usually limited to maybe 8-10 really active speakers and everyone else stays quiet.

Are you the one lurking?  Then you already know the reasons why you don't speak up. There could be a 1000 reasons.  The point is.. you want to participate but you are perfectly happy not participating as much as the guys doing all the talking.

But this is only one type of "lurker" and lurking isn't always black/white.  For example, on the other extreme we have ...

The "solo" grouper
People who write about MMOs often mistake lurkers as wanting to play a "solo" game. This is a gross oversimplification and untrue.  Why play an MMO at all if you don't want a shared world with others?

Simply look at some of the most widely praised features among casual gamers as evidence: party finders, scenarios & battlegrounds, public quests, and really anything that facilitates a "group" forming automatically which has a relatively short duration.  Remember how much "open groups" and "public quests" were praised for Warhammer Online?

That's what this group wants -- they want to group, they just don't have the real-life time to invest more than 30-90 minute chunks of time.  Any feature that facilitates this type of player's ability to group is appreciated.  And just because they want to group for a bit, doesn't mean they want to invest in making long-term friends.

Cracking the Code: How to retain your players
I would posit the theory that these "group lurkers" want to be led by others.  The easier a game makes it for these "group lurkers" to be led, the better the chance that the game will succeed and retain players.

The most vocal people in “vent” are the guys who do the leading. An important group, to be sure, but not the silent majority.  In sandboxes, the quiet ones are the lurker slaves quietly farming all the resources to build your battleship/city/whatever.  In theme parks, they are the 15 silent guys making up 60% of your 25-man raid group. These players are the heart-and-soul of an MMO's success.

At it's core, I think this is what most games lack to be successful in the long-term.  Sure, they need content.  Sure, they need to be fun.  Sure, a good IP helps.  But at the core, online gaming is about interacting with others.  The easier and more important this becomes, the more successful the MMO will be at retaining players.

Balancing the Archtypes
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 March 2013, 5:11 pm
Darkfall: Unholy Wars may still be under NDA, but that doesn't meant that there aren't topics out there that can be discussed which are public.

From the DF: Unholy Wars FAQ:

What are the classes in Darkfall Unholy Wars?

Darkfall Unholy Wars does not utilize classes in the traditional sense rather, you select a role and specify two schools to focus on within that role. Roles and Schools are not set in stone and you can change between them to suit your play-style or current situation. 

Without going into the specifics of the available Roles and Schools, one major change from the original Darkfall is that players need to select a very clearly defined Role or Archtype.  This selection, while not permanent, does mean that your "current situation" must be played as this Archtype.

While hardly a unique idea, this change marks a significant deviation from the original Darkfall which allowed players to advance multiple skills and shift from play-style to play-style while mid-combat.  Watch a DF1 video and you'll see players switch from Melee to Spells and back to Melee again in mere heartbeats.

I don't think it comes as much of a shocker that with such changes, the same class warfare type forum arguing erupts over game balance.  Again, I'm not going to speak to specifics but as with every game -- such class warfare inevitable leads to the type of forum bickering I despise most in games.

Not all Archtypes are created equal
The reality of class balance is that it's incredibly difficult to balance and it often evolves over time as players become better and/or find optimum skill usage.

Tank Archtype:  In PvP, this is by far the most forgiving Archtype because by definition, it has the most survivability.  Played poorly, a Tank can still survive and the golden rule in PvP is that you don't do any damage while dead.  This means that even a bad player can still be effective and helpful (a notion that gnaws at many players).  Typically balanced with sub-par damage and lack of range, making the Tank type too effective at dealing damage can easily make this the most OP class. By contrast, not enough damage, and good players are rendered as ineffectual as the poor players that are surviving right along-side them.

Glass Cannon Archtype:   In my opinion, the glass cannon is the most difficult Archtype to balance by a wide margin.  By definition, the cannon must do tremendous damage and be weak enough to kill quickly.  Played poorly, the Glass Cannon is easily killed.  Played well, the Glass Cannon can be un-killable even by equally skilled players.  So, do you balance for the weak or strong players?  If you balance for the strong, you'll hear no end of complaints from the weak Cannons who keep dying.  If you balance for the weak, every elite player will play a Cannon and dominate the game.

Healer Archtype:  If, like me, you think the golden rule in PvP is that you don't do damage while your dead -- then healing is the trump card. A great healer not only keeps himself alive but everyone around him. As a result, they have a huge bullseye painted on them. A tough class to balance solo because they are usually balanced on the idea that others do the damage while they do the healing. If you make them too effective at damage and healing, then the best scenario includes everyone playing Healers.

Complicating things even more is that the nature of these Archtypes tends to lend itself naturally to a sort of rock-paper-scissors thing.  Where, Tanks beat Cannons, Cannons beat Healers, and Healers beat Tanks.

Archtypes vs Homogeneity
All that said, I like having the Archtypes in games.  It provides a diversity that is fun.  Sure there are balance issues that are always evolving and need constant attention but that doesn't make it impossible.

The original "sandbox" game was Dungeons & Dragons.  Not the MMO -- the original Pen & Paper game that you played with your imagination.  And there was a reason that you started by rolling up your class and following the game rules for that class.  It provided a sense of self for who you were in the game.

The alternative is homogeneity, or uniformity, between all players. Oh sure, there are systems you could develop that limit certain things by your equipment and such but it's not quite the same as "playing a mage". :)

Polarizing MMO Rhetoric: Oh how I missed you!
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 February 2013, 11:45 pm
A typical MMO discussion
After a two year hiatus from blogging, it's good to see that the same old polarizing MMO rhetoric is still out in full force.  We still have our rollercoasters, our themeparks, our sandboxes, our "hard-core pvp" crowd, our WoW care-bears, and so on..

And of course, we have our good old-fashioned commenters:

"When will people figure out no one likes PvP"
"Blame the WoW tourists" or alternately "Go back to WoW"
"Then why is EvE successful?"
"It's not 1999 any longer, people don't grind"

PvP Political Compass
Several years ago I wrote a post about what I called the PvP Political Compass.  The basic idea was that PvP in "games" is not as straight-forward or simple as "hardcore pvp" versus battlegrounds.

It's more of a graduated scale with grouping on one axis and "impact" on the other.

As I return to blogging, I am reminded of how polarized the MMO gaming community is on so many topics.

The part I find interesting here is that I believe you can create a similar "compass" for MMO features in general.  The reality is that there is no standard definition for what people like in games.

For example, all RPGs have a certain amount of "sandbox" to them simply by virtue of allowing players to make decisions about character development.  Whereas,  a very linear game like Halo is on the very far extreme with your options limited to such things as: should I drive a Warthog or a Ghost?

By no means am I calling all MMOs a sandbox, I am simply pointing out that a game -- any game -- need not be defined by the box we try to put those games in.  And yet, the fascinating part is that people who write about MMOs or follow the games work so hard to create these boxes.

It reminds me of real-life politics.  No matter your country, there are political groups which form to try and represent large bodies of people.  Very rarely do individuals agree with every single thing the group stands for -- often they only agree with some core philosophical principles -- but they'll defend that group and anyone who questions it (even parts they don't totally agree with) in fierce and often heated arguments.

The truth, if there is one, often lies somewhere blurred in the middle.  More often, there is no truth at all -- just opinion. I always find this willful blindness by the public to be infuriating.  It creates apathy.  So many people don't like the status quo but are so concerned that the other side will "win" if they give any concessions that they willingly bring the whole process to a stalemate.

The straights aren't so dire with MMOs and we all have the power to vote with our wallets. And yet, we still keep trying to put games in boxes and point fingers and blame when they fail...

Unholy Beta
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 February 2013, 4:37 pm
After my triumphant return announcement, I expected to be more actively posting some thoughts on Darkfall Unholy Wars.  Thing is... NDA is still up and the beta has lasted FAR FAR longer than I ever would have expected.

What I find interesting about betas is that different people play them for different reasons.  Some people want to contribute suggestions for improvement.  Some people want to get an "early edge" so that when release happens they have a head start.  Others just want to play the game.

No matter what your reason for playing the beta, one factor always plays in everyone's mind: will I play this game for long on release?

That's the unfortunate side effect of a beta -- people can't help but judge an incomplete and unfinished product through the lens of what they expect at release.

The part I wonder about is how badly a game is hurt by an unexpectedly long beta.  Personally, I can't think of a single instance where interest  "increased" during an extended beta phase.

I'll let you draw your own conclusions about how this relates back to the DF:UW beta, but I don't think it's breaking NDA to say that the longer an extended beta lasts, the more likely interest is going to start to wane.

Excitement can easily turn into bitterness, particularly when a concrete release date isn't known and players stop wanting to invest time in a game where character progression lacks permanence.

For myself, I like the game and I "do" plan to play it at release.

Sid's Triumphant MMO return?
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 December 2012, 6:50 pm
Hi. My name is Sid and I'm an MMO-holic. It's been 6 months since my last MMO and I'm starting to get lured back in with false promises of a better gaming future...

Who's that sexy MMO? Darkfall: Unholy War Wait. Wait, you say! Calling Darkfall sexy is a bit like telling me you are really into fat chicks. OK - I get that - I really do... Except, here's the thing..

I played the original Darkfall and enjoyed it. In fact, my only real complaint was that I started playing a little too late and would forever be a bit behind the curve. But now Darkfall is getting not just a reboot -- but a whole new upgrade. Will it be the flashiest? Hardly. But they do offer really compelling gameplay and the lack of permanence for "things" in the game is oddly even more compelling. Stay tuned...

Why Blog?
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 April 2010, 8:01 pm
Ravious over at KT has an interesting post up about what motivates readers to unsubscribe from a blog. An interesting take, but I tend to look at it a bit differently.

What motivates someone to READ a blog?
I’ve never named a blogger I don’t like reading because I think that’s generally just bad form and impolite. That said, I’ll make an exception today because I think it provides some excellent context. So... I can’t stand Cuppycake. Prominent blogger, has a big readership, even ‘works’ in the industry now after cashing in on the blogging fame. I hold nothing against her personally, just absolutely can’t stand what she writes on her blog.

Now a big part of that is because her opinions are often the polar opposite of my opinion. If Syncaine is the opposite of Tobold, then Cuppycake is the opposite of me. Don’t believe me? Some recent entries:
  • Dun dun dun! SPARKLEPONY is mine!
  • Despite what you think, Farmville is a game!
Even in areas where we agree, we don’t really agree on the same points even if we reach the same conclusion. I tell you, if I were more unscrupulous, I could easily start an anti-Cuppy campaign that would rival Syncaine’s ongoing “war” with Tobold. But, as I said, that’s bad form and this is the only time I’m going to bring it up.

I learned long ago that the best way to win any argument is to understand the point of view of your opponent. If you can understand WHY they think that way, you are very well armed to counter their arguments and strengthen your own. So I actually like to read opinions that are contrary to mine. Particularly if they are well articulated and sensible.

BUT – I can’t stand reading Cuppy’s blog. Why? I think the problem is that her opinion is too different from mine. No amount of discussion would ever get us to agree. I don’t agree with Beau Turkey all that often either, but at least I feel I can have a discussion with him and he’ll be able to concede the point of view.

And I think that sums up why I read a blog. Because it raises topics that are interesting and warrant discussion. If I don’t feel like I can engage in that discussion, then I don’t want to read that blog. If a blog starts going way off-topic from the discussion I’m interested in, I don’t want to read it. If they fiercely moderate even reasonable comments they don’t like, I don’t want to read that blog.

In short, it’s about the discussion.

If a blogger blogs in a forest and no one was there to read it, was it really a blog?
By Ravious' definition, a blog "dies" when it starts to lose readers. Certainly in the context of blog popularity it dies, but a blog without any readers still provides the blogger a writing outlet.

Would I continue to write if I knew no one would ever read it regularly? I don't know. My most often linked to article to date (by far) was one that I wrote a LOOONG time ago about the Ethics of MMO Addiction. I actually started blogging as an outlet for continuing the discussions that I was participating in on blogs. I’m not only open to discussion, it’s what motivates me to write.

That’s why, for myself, I tend to blog about gaming related things that either really interest me or really irritate me. I've been a bit time constrained over the past couple of weeks, so I have about a dozen different "pending" blog entries to write (mostly about things that are irritating me).

I took a pretty significant break from blogging in 2009. I'm going to blame Wrath on that one. In retrospect, I think I just stopped blogging in 2009 because Wrath was neither boring and irritating nor interesting and exciting. I guess I can best describe that as a phase of mediocre contentment which wasn't positively or negatively inspiring enough to write about.

Do Gamers Fail at Real Life?
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 April 2010, 12:51 pm
Let me start by saying that when I raise this question, I'm not talking about YOU and I'm well aware that the question I'm asking is a hasty generalization about all Gamers. Certainly, I don't believe that I have failed at Real Life. Quite the contrary. And I also think that bloggers and blog readers are a "cut above" the average Gamer.

That said, I do believe that the Gamer demographic on average is less successful in Real Life. I have no factual evidence to back up that claim, only my own personal anecdotal evidence.

I am solid member of Corporate America. I have a good job with a large corporation. I own a home. I am not in debt up to my eyeballs. I have a wife and three kids. I'm not the wealthiest person I know, but I am well compensated enough to support my family without my wife needing to work.

And yet, I've never met a single person at my level in the corporate ladder who actively plays Games regularly. Nor have I ever met anyone "in-game" that has enjoyed the same level of work success that I've enjoyed in my Real Life.

That's not evidence that such people don't exist -- but it is at least anecdotal evidence that such persons exist only few and far between.

So do Gamers Fail at Life because they play Games? Or do people who fail at Life, choose to play Games to escape that Life?

Gamers Fail Because They Play Games
I think the core idea behind this school of thought is that that Gamers fail because they don't outgrow Games. As all of us mature, our priorities change. What was important to us as children is not as important to us as adults. In fact, many of the things we thought were direly important as children may be perceived as childish in adulthood.

Extending this idea to Games, perhaps Gamers simply place too high a priority on Games as adults. For example, a Gamer's ambition might be more directed towards downing that next raid boss than getting that next real life promotion. Essentially, poor prioritization resulting in less than optimum life choices and goals.

Whereas, other adults re-prioritized their life to include other ambitions. Once these priorities are re-established, Gaming falls to the bottom and becomes a much smaller part of their life.

Perhaps you were a "hardcore" gamer in College only to become a "casual" gamer as you re-prioritize your life in a post-college world. The Gamers who didn't re-prioritize as they got older are the ones who ended up as less successful in that adult world.

The best analogy I can think of is Partying. To say that my close friends and I were wild in our teens and mid-twenties would be an understatement. However, as we grew older and settled into professional lives, the extreme Partying slowed down.

We outgrew it as our priorities changed in life. By 26, I was married with child and by all accounts a 'settled' man intent on providing for his family.

But not everyone in my core group of friends settled. Some kept at it for years and never changed their priorities. Those are also the same friends who have been the least successful in their professional lives. My brother also took this approach and today, despite a college degree, works as a landscaper.

Failures use Games to Escape Life
At the opposite spectrum, there is this idea of escapism. That the Virtual Life is better than Real Life. Not really a new idea and I think that most people will admit it exists.

If your Real Life is too boring, depressing, or stressful, you can escape it for at least a few hours every evening in the world of your favorite game.

Games act as a temporary sanctuary from real life providing both avoidance and distraction. The root problem never real goes away, it’s just masked.

The most tragic example of this escapism is the case where the Korean couple let their baby starve to death while caring for their virtual child in Second Life.

Obviously, that’s a pretty extreme example. But I think it’s a good illustration of just how powerful a hold these games can hold over someone.

So I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that someone can use Games to escape all kinds of other more mundane real life problems.  No Girlfriend.  Too Fat.  No Job.  Bad Job.  Bitchy Wife.  Noisy Kids.  Small Apartment.  Lots of Debt.  Etc.

Success is Arbitrary
This topic wouldn't be complete without at least some discussion into how we define success. Certainly, success at the workplace is not the only type of success. In fact, I’m well aware that my definition of success smacks of certain type of elitism.

My best friend growing up once told me when he was in his mid-twenties that he learned the secret to a happy life is to figure out the way to spend the least possible amount of time doing "Work".

This was right about the time when he was the Guild Master for a 200 player raiding guild in EverQuest, but I digress..

His point was that "success" is not best measured in financial terms but in how well we live our life. This is a topic that often gets discussed at my workplace as "Work-Life Balance". The idea being that Work can't be so all-consuming that you don't have time to live your life.

An idea that is best illustrated by what I call the 3:00am Email. Perhaps one of the funniest things that happens in the course of my work is when I, for whatever reason, decide to check my email late at night. Inevitably, this prompts me to send out some email in response.

Now the funny part isn't that I'm sending out emails at 3am. No, the truly funny part happens when I receive a REPLY back from someone else at 3:10am!

Comical, but also a sad reflection of the burden of work. I enjoy my life and wouldn't change it, but I can certainly see the appeal of a life that someone else might have led. One where they still live a life that is unburdened with the responsibility that comes with the type of “success” that I have in my life.

Darkfall: Last Impressions
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 May 2010, 3:43 pm
I've been playing Darkfall for almost two months now and I think I'm done. In many ways, I think Darkfall is a great game. The combat is much more innovative, interactive and enjoyable than what you see in other MMOs.

I also enjoy the on-use skillups despite all it's obvious flaws. There is something uniquely rewarding about focusing on a style of play and watching that level up.

I also found that I didn't lack for direction despite the horizontal nature of the game.  I always had something to do and made a couple of friends while I was at it.

It wasn't even the grind.  I mean, harvesting isn't exactly exciting, but the full loot nature of the PvP adds a bit of excitement to the mundane.  Which is certainly something you would never experience while running around mining or herbing in Warcraft.

No.. It's because I'm a pussy.

Oh, I don't mean unskilled. I suppose that could be it, but I wouldn't even know because every time I get into a fight I'm killed pretty damn quick.

How many hours should you have to log in order to be competitive?
Now I don't mind "working" to make my character more developed. I also understand that people who have put more "work" into their character deserve to have an advantage. For better or worse, that's the nature of PvP in MMOs.

But what started to bother me a few weeks ago, really bothers me today as I'm fully realizing that in order to "catch up" to a point where I am even remotely competitive is going to take not just an incredible amount of time, but an unfathomable amount of time.

I know this because I've played A LOT over the last few weeks. And despite how much time I've put into it, my character has barely broken into the tier just above the 'newbie' stage.

To put this in perspective, I leveled my Mage alt in WoW last year from level 1 to 80 in maybe 3-4 weeks. By the fifth week, I had 4 out of 5 of the Tier pieces and decent pieces in my other slots. All of this was in addition to the raiding I was doing on my main.

The point here is not that WoW is easy to level. Obviously, it is easier than Darkfall.

No, my point here is that I have been known to log some long hours. I talked about life-balance the other day and the part I tend to sacrifice is sleep. I KNOW I play a lot. As evidenced by my being able to level a Raiding alt in five weeks without the benefit of refer-a-friend.

And at that rate of play, I also believe that in Darkfall, it would take me a minimum of another 4 months to build up a character that would begin to put me at a point where I wouldn't constantly get my ass kicked.

Which just makes me wonder, is it even worth it?

Biggest Lie: New players can contribute in PvP
This is perhaps the biggest lie that gets told to new players as they start in Darkfall. The idea is that because new players can deal maybe 30% of the damage that an established player can deal, that they can contribute immediately in PvP.

The problem here is that they can only take 30% of the effective damage that an established player can as well. If they are attacked at all, they are dead.

Now, on the surface, I don't have much of an issue with this whole dynamic. New players need to be more sneaky and try to stay in groups where they don't get focused. OK. All that is fine.

My problem is that after many many many hours, I still couldn't take any damage and live for very long. It's like PvP in WoW without resilience gear. You might be able to DO damage, but that means nothing when you are dead within mere moments.

And again, I have no real issue with that concept, my issue here is HOW LONG you remain that weak little thing who needs to sneak, escape and kow-tow to the much more powerful players.

I'm very competitive in these games. I don't want to be a cog in the machine. I want to contribute. I want to win. That's what drives me and motivates me.  I'm just realizing now that I can't keep up that motivation when it's going to take a minimum of four more months to get competitive.

New Player Perspective
I think I would have an entirely different perspective if I had played Darkfall from launch. For one thing, I have no doubt that with the hours I put in that I would have a very developed character.

Also, my "competition" would have always been at or below my relative skill level. At the very least, those far more advanced would be fewer and farther between. My skills might have been low, but so would the skills of everyone else.

The overall experience would just be more enjoyable because I wouldn't feel that I'm losing solely based on longevity.

As a new player, I have a different perspective. I'm at the bottom and I'll be at the bottom until a point where all my more advanced stats and skills begin to cap out.

I have to say that the prospect of playing a game intensely for 6 months as a whipping boy is not an entirely enjoyable thought.

This is a perspective that I just don't think a long-time Darkfall player would understand. I mean, from their point of view, they 'worked' to get where they are at and reducing the amount of work for me is a slap in the face.

But the problem is that it's relative. As I said above, when you are at the leading edge, there is never a point at which you need to 'catch up'. You are always already caught up by virtue of longevity.

But as new players start playing your game, they are behind from the start. Having the same leveling curve for those players is NOT a consistent experience. Those that came first actually have it easier because the competition wasn't as well developed.

I don't know how you fix that in an on-use skill game and keep your veteran players happy about it. All I know is that I've grown tired of it and have lost patience with the game.

Pure Win!
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 May 2010, 12:15 pm
Obviously, I don't agree with Tobold's opinions on PvP, but this paragraph is awesome:
Because, see, all of the "advice" the EVE fans gave me also applies to this situation: If you feel that my blog having a lot of readers gives me an unfair advantage in a battle of opinions, all you have to do is to open your own blog, work hard on it for 6 months, and you can have thousands of readers too. This blog is my territory, my nulsec, in which I staked out certain positions, which includes a strong anti-PvP bias. I will do everything to defend my position, I have all the weapons I need for that, and if that makes you feel unfairly ganked, well, life is harsh as you repeatedly told me. Maybe you shouldn't enter unfriendly nulsec in the first place, if the result is that you complain afterwards about unfairness! There certainly were enough warning signs posted at the gates.
I think the reason I like this quote so much is because he's fighting back. I far prefer these kinds of posts as responses to the disparaging remarks he receives over the 'why is everyone picking on me?' type he usually writes when attacked.

And he does get attacked. A lot. But that also comes with the territory when you have such a prominent blog...

Darkfall: Long overdue follow-up to reactions
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 May 2010, 2:03 pm
No breaks, working lunches, and a working weekend have all conspired to sideline me from the blog for the last couple of weeks. It’s been like this since April but really built up steam in May. The frustrating thing for me is that I just haven’t had an opportunity to respond to reactions to my Darkfall: Last Impressions post.

Reaction of Darkfall Players
Stabs made an incredibly astute observation. The actual reaction from the players who should be most offended, those still playing Darkfall, were for the most part very sympathetic.

RyanT, who didn’t even agree, even went so far as to repost my entry on the Darkfall forums. The post wasn’t met with scorn and more than half of the follow-up commenters agreed with me.

And that was on ForumFall. A place not exactly well known for its welcoming and endearing nature towards QQ posts.

That’s because at some level they all understood one basic truth: That even many of the current DF players, if forced to start over, wouldn’t spend 4-6 months of intense effort developing a character that didn’t get four-shotted. I think what non-DF players missed is the scale of effort required.

I also wasn’t criticizing the fact that imbalance existed. At one level, I’m OK with the imbalance because I view myself as the type of player that will just “work” past the imbalance. However, ultimately what got to me was the realization that the sheer amount of “work” required is unfathomable.

Again – scale.

This isn’t WoW. If I had spent the amount of effort I had spent in Darkfall on a Level 1 WoW character – I would not only be level 80, but I would have 4 or 5 BIS items (Best In Slot). Heck, I more or less did that same exact thing a year ago January/February with my Mage alt.

Darkfall is a game where everything you do contributes to a skill and stat. The more you play doing ANYTHING, the more your stats increase. Character development never really stops.

Thus, it would be monumentally unfair to the “other guy” if I was allowed to easily catch up. How would you feel if you spent 6 months developing a character only to have me “catch-up” in six weeks and then pass you?

Tobold’s “Serial Ganker quits Darkfall
I found it a bit entertaining that I never wrote the word “quit” anywhere in my original post and it was used in Tobold’s title. True enough, I suppose. But perhaps a good example of my overall issue with how Tobold characterized my post.

I felt the selective quoting had a much more negative overtone about Darkfall than my original post. Again, I wasn’t misquoted or even quoted out-of-context, but certainly anything positive that I had to say about Darkfall was conveniently left out.

Tobold goes on to say these thoughts of mine echo his own thoughts about EVE. The principal problem of PvP in an MMO is character advancement and such advancement puts new players at odds with veteran players. I’ve raised that question myself on occasion. Certainly it’s an issue.

However, it’s not a unique issue.

It exists in Darkfall, it exists in EVE, it exists in WoW, it exists in WAR. It exists in all MMOs. It even exists in MMOs that don’t allow you to attack other players. Tobold would have you believe that this issue doesn’t exist in PvE. But it does. Because we don’t play MMOs in a vacuum. We play with other people.

When you RAID in game like WoW, you compete for your RAID spot. You are one of 10 or 25 people. If there are 11 or 26 people who want to RAID – let the competition begin. Who’s got the best gear? Who does the most DPS? The more veteran or “advanced” player has an advantage.

Even mundane tasks like harvesting, trading, or mining are all competitive activities in which veteran players have an advantage.

Mining Copper on foot? You’ll lose to the guy on the mount.

Mining Fel Ore on a mount? You’ll lose to the guy on the Flying Mount.

Competing on the Auction House? You’ll lose to the guy with more gold who understands the market, has established trading contacts and can afford to weather out a bad market.

Veteran players will always have an advantage. This isn’t new. In fact, the only way to take away that advantage is to either force everyone to be equal or take the “group” out of the equation.

That’s why I can’t really be critical of Darkfall or EVE on this score. It’s indicative of a bigger problem with all MMOs.

How do you on-board NEW players while at the same time not invalidating the work of your more veteran players?

Blizzard takes the approach that with every expansion, you effectively get a gear reset. They also don’t have any qualms about lowering the effort required to get gear or increase your relative power. It takes a third of the time to level 1-60 that it once did. Gear that was BIS when I quit WoW a year ago is trivial now. In short, they actively undermine the efforts of their most dedicated players in order to create this balance.

If there is something different about Darkfall and EVE it’s that neither game takes this approach of invalidating the effort of their most dedicated players. I’m sure some would argue that they should. I don’t know. As a new player to Darkfall, such a thing would have greatly increased my experience. But at what cost to the veteran players?

Even in Blizzard’s case though, the solution isn’t exactly ideal (as evidenced by Tobold’s recent complaint about the grind in Outland). You still have 70 levels to slug through of content 4-6 years old before you can get to the most active group content as a new player. Most of which you will do as a “solo” player.

The “Hero” Reaction
I think what irritated me most about Tobold’s post is the direction it took in his comments and Gevlon’s separate follow-up post on his blog. Over the years, Tobold has been pretty outspoken about EVE in that “there are more of the downtrodden masses than there are emperors.” A criticism that I don’t share. He wrote:
I get extremely suspicious nowadays whenever I hear of a game which allows you to achieve great things, lead an empire, and rule over the masses. [..] If I want to lead empires, I play single-player games.
In fairness, I don’t think Tobold was aiming that comment at me. However, it quickly became obvious in the comments that at least some of his readers were attributing the idea that *I* wanted to lead empires and that’s why I quit Darkfall. Gevlon took it one step further and said that I quit because I didn’t want to be a cog and that I wasn’t a team player.

The common theme is this silly idea about people wanting to be a “Hero”. I’ve never really liked that argument not because it’s untrue but because no one likes feeling unimportant.

You are the center of your Universe. You will always care most about what happens to YOU and what YOU do. Even if you are part of a team, YOUR role and YOUR actions as they contribute to the team are the most important part in YOUR little universe.

I played team sports in High School, so I understand perfectly well what it means to be on a team. Individual success is meaningless if the team doesn’t win.

But if the team DOES win, does that make individual success still meaningless? No.

Your individual performance still matters to YOU. If you know that YOU are not contributing to help the team win, you don’t feel as if YOU earned it – even if the team does win.

So it should never come as any surprise to anyone that the most important part of any MMO is YOU.

What makes a good IP for an MMO?
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 May 2010, 5:49 pm
Over the weekend, I finished up Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy. If you weren’t aware, Brandon is the author who got the nod to complete the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. 

I’m a big Sci-Fi/Fantasy reader and after hearing that Brandon was the planned author for the WoT finale, I read his first novel Elantris to get a taste of how talented he was as a writer.

I liked his stand-alone book but was still pretty skeptical about him finishing arguably the best and most storied fantasy series of all time. Unfounded fears as it turned out his Wheel of Time novel was one of the best in the series.

All this got me to thinking that as bloggers, we sometimes talk or rate the IP of our MMOs. In this context, we aren't talking so much about the engine or game itself but the actual "Lore" that makes up the virtual world we inhabit as players. This Lore is important because it tells us the story of the world and our part within it.

From one perspective, it would seem like Books and Movies would be an excellent source for Lore in an MMO. After all, here is a story and world that is already developed.

They also have an existing fan base that makes for a great core audience. This approach has proven very profitable in the Movie industry. Comics like Spiderman, Batman, Superman, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Hulk and even Garfield (and soon Marmaduke) are all existing stories with existing fans whose license translates great into Movies. Heck, we are even seeing Video Games like Resident Evil and Prince of Persia turned into Movies.

But there is a problem when applying this approach to MMOs. Balance.

Different – But Equal
The issue as I see it when applying the Lore of a given game to an MMO is that you inevitable need to break or deviate from the Lore in order to make it “work” in the MMO. A game like Warcraft, whose Lore didn’t exist outside of a game, doesn’t have this same problem of breaking Lore cannon in order to make a game more fun or balanced.

The best example of this in action is Star Wars. Following the Lore, the most powerful unit in any Star Wars MMO would need to be the Jedi. Han Solo, super-stud Bounty Hunter that he is, could never kick Luke Skywalker’s ass. Only other characters who also possess Jedi powers are able to face and defeat each other.

In a book, movie or solo video-game – that’s not a problem.

In an MMO, where people may want to choose a class other than a Jedi, it’s a problem.

That’s because it’s inherent to the story that these groups are more powerful than everyone else. Which really doesn’t fit with an MMO where the goal is to provide players options that are different but still equal.

This isn’t true with all the cannon Lore in all books, of course. But it is a common issue. In many ways, it’s far easier to just borrow the parts you like and create your own Lore.

Certainly Lore built for game systems is just going to be naturally much better designed and easier to implement. Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms and Warhammer are all just going to be more inherently aligned with the RPG model. No need to fit a square peg into a circular hole.

The OP is OP (translation: The One Power is Overpowered)
My biggest concerns regarding the upcoming Wheel of Time MMO is that by necessity of game design, it’s going to have to break the cannon of WoT Lore.

In WOT, being able to wield the One Power (Aes Sedai, Ashaman, etc) is a trump card that beats anyone who has a sword. There are very few ways for someone without the OP to defeat them.

A sword wielder just gets wrapped up in Air weaves. Arrows? Air weave again.

I think of myself as a fairly creative guy and I can’t think of a single way to balance the One Power against non-wielders without seriously breaking or deviating from the cannon.

In fact, there are very few non-wielders who have could confront and win against an OP user. And those that exist are rare because they are central unique individuals to the storyline.

I guess everyone could be someone who wields the OP but that seems a little restrictive for a classic fantasy MMO (and a bit Darkfall-esque where everyone is the same).

Bigger than Life characters
One thing I really appreciate about Blizzard’s Lore in Warcraft is that they have some “bigger than life” NPC characters. Say what you will about everyone being a Hero in WoW, but the real Heroes from a Lore perspective aren’t player based at all. Thrall, Arthas, Illidan, Gul’Dan, Medivh, Jaina, Grom Hellscream.

Important People.

That’s one thing I will say in favor of the Wheel of Time Lore. There certainly would be no shortage of high profile NPCs on which to base events, raids, quests and so forth. There are lots and lots of very prominent and interesting characters that would be very useful as NPC bosses and heads of state.

Mistborn Trilogy
Ironically, despite my earlier observation that Books can make for lousy IP in an MMO, I do think that the Mistborn series has some potential.

I don’t want to provide any spoilers, but one of the things that makes Mistborn interesting is that there are lots of different types of talents that have a lot of power in their specific areas.

They also come along with slang names which would work great as Classes. For example, a “Thug” is someone who can burn a metal that makes them physically powerful. A “Coinshot” is someone who can propel metal away from their body. A “Lurcher” is someone who can attract metal towards them.

Done right, you could easily have eight distinct classes with various abilities. And at least one ( a “Hazekiller”) which has no abilities.

Abilities also improve with usage and have a “resource” that fuels/limits the user.

I don’t know if I would go so far as to allow player controlled Mistborn. But that’s a possibility – particularly at end-game.

Warcraft: A retrospective look back
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 May 2010, 7:03 pm
I’m not playing World of Warcraft at the moment. Nor do I have much interest at this point in playing the Cataclysm expansion.

There is no irrational hate here, just a lack of interest. To the contrary, I have very fond memories about WoW. And while I’m one of the first to point out all of Warcraft’s shortcomings, I think (as a whole) that Blizzard has done more things right over the years than wrong.

Millions of other people also support this idea as well. Say what you will about the game, but if they actually were screwing up the game at every turn, no one would be playing the game. The simple reality is that people do enjoy playing it and if they didn’t, then millions of them wouldn’t continue playing it.

Burning Crusade – The Design
In retrospect, I realize now that Burning Crusade was a lousy expansion. Oh, I suppose the leveling and questing experience was fine. Not as good as Wrath, but it was definitely an overall improvement to Vanilla WoW. I think if I am being critical here, it’s that there was only one entrance into Outland and it resulted in some crazy crowds at release.

There were some other improvements as well, like Flying Mounts, Heroic Dungeons, Badges of Justice, and Armor Tokens for Tier Pieces. But outside of those things, the expansion mostly sucked at end-game.

The biggest problem is that the transition path from a fresh 70 to an entry-level raiding 70 was idiotic. The entry-level raid dungeon, Karazhan, was very well done – but getting to that content was a serious pain in the ass.

You’ll recall that you needed to get “keyed” in order to get inside of Karazhan (which involved a lengthy quest chain). Now, the quest-chain for a key was not a new idea. This was pretty common in Vanilla WoW.

But at least here, there were more things to do and you hadn’t already been raiding at a level 50 only to hit this “key” wall at 60. Which meant that you didn’t have the expectation of raiding at level cap until well after you had done many of the level 60 dungeons.

Also, in Vanilla WoW, it was only important for one person to have been keyed in some of the starter dungeons. And for the others, it was a relatively easy dungeon crawl to get “attuned” to things like Molten Core.

To make matters worse, the next raid dungeon in Burning Crusade also required a separate “key” that could only be completed after an even longer quest chain involving the raid bosses in Kara. Even worse, this next dungeon wasn’t 10-man, but 25-man.

Now I’m no math wizard, but even I can tell that you can’t divide 25 by 10 evenly. In order to get even the minimum of 25, you needed at least three groups of 10.

Even worse, a 10-man group was typically made up of 2 Tanks, 2 Healers and 6 DPS.  If you multiply that by three, you end up with 6 Tanks, 6 Healers and 18 DPS.  25-man Raid composition needs 3 Tanks, 8 Healers, 14 DPS.  So too many Tanks and DPS, but not enough Healers.

The end result is that several progression walls were created. And even overcoming one wall (beating 10-man Kara) was then faced by the next wall (getting 15 more to do the next raid dungeon).

Frustrated players would hit a progression wall and might never get past it. I’ll always remember BBB (Big Bear Butt blogger) writing about how he effectively couldn’t get past Karazhan not for lack of gear or skill, but because he couldn’t overcome the social engineering challenge of getting other people to stay in his guild long enough to get everyone keyed for SSC.

On a personal note, I actually quit most of that whole raid progression game and focused on PvP for the last year of that expansion out of frustration.

Burning Crusade – Guild Drama
Design issues aside, much of my problem with Burning Crusade related to guild issues. I switched from a Horde to an Alliance server a bit after the expansion released with some real life friends. In doing so, we left our old Horde guild (we were part of the core group, but our Guild Leader had been absent for several weeks).

After a few months at 70 on the Alliance server, all but two of my real life friends had slowly stopped playing. The three of us then decided to go back to our old Horde server. We also wanted to play different classes (in my case, the same class I played on Alliance), so despite returning to the same server – it was a fresh reroll.

Surprisingly, our old guild didn’t die after we left. Our absent Guild Leader had returned and managed to reform a new core group of players. Like the prodigal sons returning, we joyously rejoined him.

This was a pretty big mistake.

It turned out that our Guild Leader was mostly the leader in name alone. He had a great aptitude for attracting and keeping players together, but pretty much assigned out the business of running raids to his raid leaders.

A big believer in more is better, he recruited a lot of people and the result was an elite group of maybe 20 people, followed by another 20 fighting for the 5 remaining raid spots.

Elite is likely the wrong word choice to describe that core group of players. In truth, this was just the best geared group – not necessarily the most skilled.

I think what was most frustrating to those players just outside of that group is that castoffs kicked out of other guilds were often given a raid spot based on gear quality and not their ability to actually perform. Needless to say, this group wiped a lot and stalled on a lot of content that similar guilds easily beat.

From my perspective, I never raided anything beyond a few Kara runs with this group. The issue for me was Raid time. Back when I left the server, the Raid time was a very convenient 8:00pm PST. I, and my other real life friends, live on the West Coast, so this worked out really well for us.

However, after we left, the group that filled our void was largely East Coast and preferred a 5pm raid time (forming at 4:30). I couldn’t even physically get home from work until 6:00 and wasn’t available to raid until 7:00pm.

I think I stayed in that guild far longer than I should have out of friendship with my old acquaintances. I never even got as far from a PvE progression standpoint as I had with my old Alliance guild. I eventually left for a PvP-focused guild (since that’s all I was doing).

Ironically, I ended up doing much more raiding with this PvP guild than I ever did with my former guild since we often paired up with another group once or twice a week to raid for gear. Go figure.

Wrath of the Lich King – No Guild Drama
It’s my sincere belief that most MMO players struggle with the types of Guild Drama issues that I described above. I think finding a “good guild” is more the exception than the rule and is likely why the solo-viability of a game like WoW makes it immensely popular.

I think this bears repeating because I think some other bloggers have always been fortunate enough to have a good guild or group to play with and in many ways, I think this twists their expectations.  The simple fact is that far more people are in bad guilds than good ones.  Good people, but not enough of them to DO much of anything. Or conversely, large groups, but run by people you don't like or connect with at a personal level.

That's a very important consideration for a developer because as I learned in Wrath, having a good quality group to play with dramatically increases the “fun factor” in these games.

In any event, shortly after returning back to WoW, I was recruited into a great guild that I can't say enough good things about.  It was by far the best group I’ve ever played with and I think that it contributed greatly to a much better experience than the one I had during Burning Crusade.

One of the reasons this guild worked so well for me is that I had a great relationship with the other Rogue.  If I'm being blunt, most Rogues are scrubs and/or greedy bastards.  However, the two of us were both great players and pretty unselfish.  It really made for a solid friendship and I was closer to him than any other member of the guild.

Wrath of the Lich King - Design
Wrath is not without it's issues. Leveling and questing was a far more improved experience.  If I'm being critical here, I would have liked to have seen more "phasing" and a smarter implementation of it in certain places.  It's a great mechanic to evolve a story.

I didn't PvP much in Wrath because honestly, the far superior PvP in Warhammer had by this point pretty much turned me off from WoW's sub-par PvP.  Wintergrasp was unspectacular and the new Battleground boring compared to the pure action to a scenario like Tor Anroc.

The real improvement for me was the Raiding.  Much more accessible and the 10-man versions made the possibility of PuGGing content your Guild wasn't doing that week (or you would miss) a realistic option.

I know people have been critical that Raiding was made "easy" in Wrath but I think that's not exactly true.  I think what made things easier (and better) is that you had twice the opportunity to do each Raid.  You could run it in 25-man AND in 10-man.

Even players who never did the 25-man content could master the 10-man content and then PuG a 25 and have roughly a good idea of what they needed to do.  10-mans are a training ground of sorts and THAT'S what made the content overall easier.

The net is that the end-game was simply just more enjoyable than in Burning Crusade.

SW: TOR - How I would approach it if I were Bioware
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 May 2010, 2:20 pm
There has been some talk on different blogs about the upcoming Star Wars MMO.  The overall concern is that Bioware has been on record as describing the upcoming game as a "storyline" RPG similar to what they have done in the single-player versions.

The thought here is that a "story" is only temporary and doesn't work well in an MMO.  After all, what does a player do when the story ends?

Valid concern.

As I wrote on Syncaine's blog today, I think if I were Bioware, my focus as a developer would be on setting up some methodology that would allow me to quickly and easily build out lots of content.

Specifically, some sort of story "toolkit" that content managers could use to create new content.  Notice that I didn't say content developers but content managers.

In my mind, that's the key.  This "toolkit" needs to be easy to use and not require a lot of hardcoding development on the part of the content manager.  They simply write the questlines, provide the NPC interaction dialog, work with voice actors, and then choose the locations, monsters, items and such that the player will deal with in their "adventure".

In a way, this isn't any different than the "Map Editor" toolkit we saw for Warcraft 3 or other similar types of things.  Heck, I even recall a Dungeon Contstuction Kit on my old Apple II (or maybe it was on the Commodore 64?).

The point being is that the only way that I see "story" driven content working in an MMO is if there are LOTS and LOTS of stories.

And the only way to do that is to make it easy to CREATE the stories themselves.  And that means giving the people who will be creating this content simple, easy-to-use tools in order to create it.

Now, this might make for some "cookie-cutter" adventures and might not be the MMO that I want to play, but I think there is a market for it.  As I wrote on Syncaine's blog, just think of all the people that mindlessly complete the same Daily Quests day-after-day.

Getting Screwed!
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 May 2010, 10:02 pm
I don’t write much about my professional life because I try to keep this blog topical to MMOs. This post is going to feel like it’s not MMO or gaming related but hang with me for a bit and my point will come full circle back to MMOs. I promise.

Marketing was, and always will be, my professional passion. But... I like money and so I spent the first four years after college in a technical sales role that I felt would provide me with equivalent sales experience that I could (and did) transition into marketing.

It was a crazy job. We were a technical services firm focused on large accounts with UNIX datacenters. As an account manager, I handled virtually everything related to the client except deployment and billing. Now the real crazy part is that while we were a technical services firm, we didn’t actually provide any of these product or services ourselves.

I can’t express how much more difficult building out a quote is in this scenario over a traditional sales role. We didn’t have fixed costs. Instead, we negotiated our costs AFTER we had won the business. This means quoting to the client with just a rough approximation of what things are likely going to cost you.

I was responsible for not only negotiating the prices with our clients but also negotiating and managing our costs for any subcontractors we used. Oh – and my commission was based entirely on profit (not revenue) so negotiating lower costs would directly impact my sales performance.

All this taught me A LOT about leaving money on the table.

Trust, Money and False Expectations
If I can provide you a life lesson it’s that when money is involved, trust leads to false expectations.

For example, let’s say that you have a friend that sells furniture. You need a new couch, so you call your friend. Your expectation is that your friend is going to give you a great deal on a couch. However, from his point of view, you are just buying the couch from him because you would rather give a friend your money.

You trust him to give you a great deal, perhaps even at or below cost. He feels an obligation to treat you fairly, but not bend over backwards to get you that great deal.

I’m not telling you to NOT go to your friends for furniture. But what I am stressing is that it is a bad idea to delude yourself into having a false expectation that a person trying to make money to support themselves is going to do anything more than treat you fairly.

And that’s when the person is a friend.

For the stranger, trust becomes a tool. It’s important for them to engender a certain amount of trust in order for you to be willing to spend money with them. You need to believe that goods will be delivered. You need to believe the price you pay is fair. You need to believe that the quality and promises will be kept.

Misplaced trust is dangerous.

This is part of what I think is interesting about the whole Allods debacle. When the prices changed in the Cash Shop, it was perceived as a violation of trust. Pretty much by definition, the Microtransaction model requires a lot of trust from the players. It requires that they trust the developer to treat them fairly and not create artificial incentives to promote the Cash Shop.

However, the unfortunate reality is that none of these developers want to leave money on the table.

Money on the table
Tobold wrote a piece on Monday about a new Microtransaction style Facebook game he had spent an undisclosed amount of money on. I was a bit disappointed with him about it.

Not an entirely rational thing. It’s his money after all. Who am I to tell him how to spend it?

But here’s the thing – paying money for crap games, particularly in these Microtransaction models, teaches the developers something.

It tells them that some people are willing to spend this way. Paying incrementally more in small chunks for content that requires far less time to develop.

As I wrote in the comments of his blog, lets compare the value you receive from one of these games to the value you receive from an MMO like World of Warcraft.  Let’s imagine that Tobold spent a modest $5 on this Facebook game. A month of WoW is three times that cost – $15.

Did he receive 1/3 the relative value for his $5? No.

When I pointed this out to Tobold in the comments, he responded with the following:
Did I mention I spent 10 years of my life an about $10,000 on Magic the Gathering? If you don't count the PC and internet connection, 10 years of WoW only cost about $2,000.

But I don't see what is wrong with that. Why shouldn't somebody with more money be able to spend more on games? Do you think it is unfair that some people drive bigger cars too?
Tobold’s take is not that $2,000 is a better value than the $10,000 he spent on Magic cards. Instead, his take is that he would have been willing to pay $10,000 if Blizzard had allowed him.

In effect, he (and others like him) are telling Blizzard that they are leaving $8,000 on the table.

If WoW costs us 5x the price, would we receive 5x the value?
This is where I fundamentally diverge from the mindset that supports Microtransactions. The justification that you have the money to freely spend on these transactions is not the point. I have the money to spend too.

I’m just not willing to pay more for the same thing I was already getting.

My point being that Tobold and his $5 is getting incrementally less for his money supporting these types of games. His willingness to spend 5x the amount on these games won’t buy him 5x the value. Quite the opposite.

His willingness to spend so much more is just telling Blizzard and the other gaming companies that there is a willing market of people who are willing to overpay relative to the services and products they have been receiving.

Negotiating the Price
I don’t begrudge Tobold’s right to outspend me. I DO begrudge him for teaching developers that it’s OK to provide less for more.

Right now, game developers are realizing that players are willing to spend more on games. I think of these Microtransaction models as a negotiation of sorts. Developers are testing this new market trying to find the line that makes them the most profitable.

Sadly for me, Blizzard and other are learning that YOU are willing to spend much more for little content. The Sparkle Pony is not dangerous because it offers some unfair advantage but because it teaches these developers something about a market willing to spend money on almost nothing.

At the end of the day, the trend is that collectively we are going to spend more for games.  I can't change that, nor do I really want to change it.

I would just like to see us negotiate a much better deal.

Quick Hit: Spontaneous PvP
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 June 2010, 1:07 pm
I’m always surprised that I don’t get asked why I titled my blog Serial Ganker when I don’t write much about Ganking other people. You would think that such a blog would be filled with tales of my exploits (much like EVE Pirate).

The actual reason has more to do with my self-identity in online games. I’m aggressive and not ashamed of it.

I’m always prepared to drop whatever I’m doing to engage in spontaneous PvP. And well, when two people happen to meet spontaneously in the world, the two are rarely on equal terms. Even if they have relatively the same power score, the person who prepares for the fight and engages first is the one with a significant advantage.

But it’s not just about being the hunter. It’s also about being the hunted. My most memorable Spontaneous PvP moments are the ones where I escaped overwhelming odds in grand fashion.

Quick Hit: Equipment which breaks
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 June 2010, 11:26 am
The first thing you need to understand when I talk about equipment breakage is that I’m not talking about destroying all of your rare and difficult to acquire equipment.

Or I suppose I am, just not in the same sense that you have come to understand “rare and difficult to acquire” relative to a game like Warcraft. If one boss drops three items for 25 people each week, it’s not very good game design to destroy that item a few hours later.

Now let me ask, should the "challenge" in acquiring a difficult or rare item be in "winning the roll" or in fighting the boss itself? In Warcraft, many boss fights are trivialized and the challenge itself is in the "roll" and not the "boss". As evidenced by the fact that many raiders will kill the same boss 25+ times before getting that Best In Slot item.

But what if each player got their own loot table and item for each boss. One drop every boss for each player involved in the raid. Instead of a 13 boss dungeon that provides 1 drop for each player, you have a 13 boss dungeon that provides 13 drops for each player.

Suddenly, an item that “breaks” after several hours of play is not such a huge obstacle.

Rarity is a relative term. You can make things difficult to acquire by making the boss fights themselves more difficult and challenging. And since the items themselves don't "last" or persist forever, getting that +1 upgrade doesn’t mean you throw out your old sword.

The advantage of such a system is that you don’t need “Gear Resets” to create equality. By virtue of simply playing the game, the content can be tuned so equipment simply wears out over time.

The consistent and constant loss of equipment created by breakage also provides a lot of value to your crafting system and economy. Why? Because the consumption creates a loss that needs to be replaced. An economy only works if that which is being used is consumed.

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