Posts archived in aion

Jumpgate Evolution
Black Prophecy
Fallen Earth
The Agency

I know I’m probably missing some or wrong about some, but those are the MMOs that I can pick off the top of my head that are looking at release dates roughly within the next year or so. It’s an interesting list really.

JG:E and Black Prophecy are space ships, now with joysticks, Fallen Earth and Aion are more traditional MMOs, one post apoc, the other fantasy post apoc. Crimecraft, APB, and the Agency are all going for a third person shooter feel, and are to some extent pressing against the bounds of how we define MMO. Champions is the next installment in online superhero gaming, which remains to be seen whether it’ll redefine it’s niche or enter on more or less even footing with it’s aged competitor. Metaplace is already in open beta which means release is right around the corner now, and to say it’s somewhat different than the current crop of MMOs would be a hell of an understatement.

In other words, this next year will be a completely different year for MMOs than the last one. Change, evolution, revolution, and old guard all coming out right next to each other. Somewhat surprisingly, we’re going to be seeing a lot more of the third person shooter of which TR is the most famous MMO predecessor. To great extent, the future of the entire will likely be shaped on where Aion fits in the pack, if it comes out on top, it could be the groundhog heralding six more years of diku, if it’s near the bottom it could finally kill off future funding for diku MMOs all together as we move forward.

In large part, this is the year I’ve been waiting for. I’ve noticed that my posts about design have been trailing off over the last six months. In large part it was that I mostly felt I’d said just about everything that I personally needed to say about MMOs, though perhaps not always in detail. Once I’d caught up to a certain point, criticism of design really didn’t matter that much, since the current “state of the art” was still in the hands of the designers working on projects that are only now getting ready for release.

Something that faces the blogosphere, in particular, is that I doubt anyone is going to wind up giving all the games a “fair” shake. Lets face it, if you think it takes three months of play to be allowed to form an opinion on an MMO, you’re not going to have the time or money to form an opinion about every game on the list. So by and large, going forward, you’re going to get a whole lot of opinions formed from trial periods or first months even from people you wouldn’t have expected it from. The fact that most people aren’t just going to abandon whatever MMO they are playing now, also means all of this reviewing and opinion forming is going to have to take place alongside their typical gaming, leaving even less time to devote to each new game.

And again this is just brand new games, I’m not even addressing all the expansion packs and content patches that are going to be released over the next 12 months.

Am I the only one who finds the IPs people choose to make MMOs out of kind of… weird? Almost as weird as my tendency to misspell weird ‘wierd’, thank god for spell-check. Anyways, I’m not just talking about some fantasy vs. sci-fi argument rehash. I mean if I were looking for qualities that set an IP apart for ease of transition, I sure as shit wouldn’t pick Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or Warhammer. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just… well it’s like mining tin instead of gold, lots more mining for comparatively less profit.

Let’s take LotR for just a second. It’s got the obvious pieces, swords, monsters, a few races and some good back story. Now you need to write a reason for the player to be in the story, either double your work by including both factions or find some way to make PvP somewhat reasonable, and build a world where your players can socialize at different levels without even having full control of your mapping and architecture. If you take a step back and look at pretty much all of the IPs that have been carried over, they were picked for nerdbase (or better put nerdgasm), but all of them require some serious designer two-step and worst of all they need it in places that are basically no-win scenarios with the fan base.

My take? Well first off, we’re gonna have to leave the American culture sphere since, honestly, they don’t have much that’s quite so perfect. So my first three proposals would be Pokemon, Angelic Layer, and Air Gear. Kids, pre-teens, and older teens to adults respectively, hell if you allow some of their nudity shenanigans Air Gear would be more adult than Age of Conan on it’s best day. Now why these?

What advantages do these IPs offer? For starters, no death. This means we never have to worry about why all the source material characters were afraid of dieing, when the players have the immortality button. Organized PvP. Not only do we have a reasonable system for players to fight each other, we also have leagues, ladders, duels, team duels, scoring systems, betting systems, achievements, titles, and even story driven battles. Directed social interaction. This is probably the most important of all, and it’s tied into the organized PvP but it’s just as important in PvE and downtime. These shows have already shown us when, where, why and how the players interact, when they fight, when they cooperate, when they just talk and hang out. Right now there is a lot of complaining about the grind, and people are right to knock it, we’ve gotten so focused on how every needs to be the hero we’ve missed something. Practice. Nobody is perfect at first, and sometimes you practice alone, but what really makes practice so awesome is you get to hang out with your friends and see each other grow as you do it. Walk around alone and of course it’s just going to suck sooner or later.

Let me get philosophical here for a minute. Game designers have had a good long time to learn how to make a game fun for someone for a little while. We’ve also had a while to learn how let a few friends have fun and compete for years. So far this has all been in the context of real life, distributed virtual scoring for virtual representation of an identity. The real advantage of an MMO is the unified context, you aren’t just doing something, you’re doing it with everyone around you and you’re all sharing in one great big experience. It’s not about solo or group, or anything so fucking divisive, even when you’re alone you’re in the middle of the great stream of players and activity around you. If that stream slows down, it sucks, but it never stops till the devs pull the plug and walk away.

These IPs have a flow guide, a route already laid out. If it wasn’t so apparent that the industry needed training wheels, I wouldn’t bother pointing them out. Listen, the reason nobody is going to overthrow WoW is because it needs more than just that perfect storm of publicity. I never thought polish was the right word, and I’m tired of all the debates over the word fun, the fact is it has to be a fundamentally good game and it has to generate enough content to bridge the gap of four years within a month. With these IPs you have one job, render their fundamental hat in terms of fun game play then follow the map making minor corrections as needed. That doesn’t mean it can’t still be a fun project, and I think there are more than a few big names in the industry who need to get their asses back to the roots of game design.

I know I don’t have a job in the industry, and my projects aren’t really working out all the time. I’ve got my problems, but if anyone at the top is reading this, look out. You keep it up with the phoned in performances, and I’m gonna catch up to bite you in the ass. I’m tired of playing around, so consider yourself warned.

What do you do if the perceived value of content reaches zero?

Value is a purely subjective measure, a comparative measure as to what is most worth your dollar. We have two measures of value, the natural and most common measure, and the more objective measure. The first is a comparison of what we pay for similar things, the second is what else we could be getting for that same amount of money.

MMOs as they stand are largely a content delivery mechanism. Their numerical and mathematical base being also the core of their user interaction means that their game play is rarely a content generator, such as you would see most aptly in Force Unleashed for example. What this means is that the player base requires a constant stream of new content, which with a maximum efficiency team should be produced in roughly O(n) time. O(n) time means O(n) pay checks, and while hiring more people would allow you to produce more content, you can’t hire more people to produce the same amount of content faster until you are dealing with overarching story plots that can actually be subdivided into lesser partitions.

What all this means is, your product’s intrinsic value is tied to the content delivered. The cost of content has a flat bottom, where each equivalent sized package of content costs a certain minimum to create which cannot be reduced. Thereby any equivalently “sized” game must cost at least the minimum cost of the associated content to create, with the game’s engine, design, and core game play programming being added on top.

Ironically, although the quality of content often scales the cost of generation upwards, for professional level work, people generally pay roughly the same amount for any equivalently “sized” package of content regardless of quality. The monetary gain usually being manifested in number of purchases, rather than quality of purchases.

The baseline price for MMO content has been $15 for a while now. However, with the proliferation of non-flat rate business models, and the rise of user generated content being passed from a purely hobbyist vantage to a business model in itself, the baseline perceived value of content is approaching $0. It is important to note, however, that it is not the perceived value of any particular “package” of content that is approaching 0, it is the perceived value of content as a whole. Also, more than any particular business approaching any particular model, it is rather that the sheer amount of content available is so overwhelming, that content is losing all value associated with rarity. Having access to content of almost any sort is easy and free with the current climate of the internet.

My personal answer:
Much like novels, we will grow and adapt as consumers and businesses will, of course, fill in the voids. But in the mean time, some of the best in the industry will probably find themselves replaced by small operations that weren’t even on their radar. Likely, launching without full content will become even more of a death knell than it is now, as it will be assumed that the game has full content and only the quality would set it apart as a worth while purchase.

But there are deeper aspects to this as well that don’t fit very well within the current market overview. For instance, the very model of an MMO as a content delivery system will have to be reworked, at the very least it will become incumbent on them to act as content generation systems. User generated content as we generally refer to it probably will not be at the core of this, instead it will more likely be emergent rule sets designed to evolve alongside the players.

At least that’s my $.02.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading lately, across various sites and through some major back and forth exchanges of history and ideas. From this I feel as though I’m starting to find a fairly decent grasp on some of the factors contributing to the current MMO market.

I’m going to be bringing quite a few games, and I can’t promise I’ll be particularly positive to your favorite. Still please bear with me and read the entire article before responding.

To begin with I want to cover a little bit about the who. Demographics I suppose it would be called, though I don’t plan on tracking age, gender, or race so I’m not sure it counts (~.^). But I’ll to try to examine who it is that I believe to be playing these games.

Consistent with most service industries I’m are not looking for what could be called a “normal” customer. Instead I would prefer to try and block out certain groups that we know to play these games.

Group A will consist of people who purchase two or more games a month and are probable to acquire any sufficiently marketed MMO within three months of launch. We’ll call them the Nomads for my own ease.

Group B consists of persons under the age of 17 who are probable to play many different games a month but do not, on average, purchase the games themselves. We’ll call them annoying little shi… Tweens, we’ll call them Tweens.

Group C would be persons above the age of 17 who will purchase, on average, less than one game a month. While I’m loathe to open this can of worms, we’ll call these people Casual Gamers.

Group D are self identified gamers who purchase fewer than one title per month. Gamers will do.

The first MMOs were created for our A and D groups. The current game industry as a whole is built by and for Gamers and Nomads, the concept of creating MMOs for them was a logical solution. UO and Everquest are the examples I’d use for that period. Neither game had great penetration in the B or C groups though both certainly attracted some amount of players from those groups.

I would theorize however that MMOs as a whole actually have only a small market share amongst Gamers and Nomads. Nomads especially are more often consumers than they are users, preferring the act of buying a product over paying for a service. Group C by comparison is much more likely to see the game as a service which naturally makes the business model more palatable.

Group B was soon discovered by games like Runescape, but group C remained an impossible market to gain a significant foothold in right up until 2005.

There are a few important things to note about World of Warcraft that allowed it to open that market while increase share in both markets B and D, Tweens and Gamers. WoW was a highly polished iterative evolution from a game play stand point, and while that was a major contributor to it’s success it would also have been impossible for it to have affected such a paradigm shift alone. WoW’s disruptive evolution in marketing campaigns has consistently pulled in the C and D markets allowing them to grow their target audience. WoW’s western market consists of a little under five million. It has thus far been impossible for any other MMO to replicate those numbers, in fact Western subs rarely approach the one million mark.

The most important take away for business people is, however, that the B and C markets, Tweens and Casuals, are growing while the D market is fairly steady. Expect to see more games aimed at those two markets attempting to tangentially acquire members of the Gamer demographic.

Unfortunately we still have one loose end; the A market, Nomads. The Nomad demographic are high money spending players, but they have a generally lower amount of loyalty than the other groups, besides the Tweens. Nomads are also some of the most likely to frequent blogs and forums though. The industries sharp turn away from the Nomad’s preferred type of game has left a segment of the market hurt and disillusioned. To a large extent, we are seeing the SWG CU and NGE style event happen on an industry wide level.

The companies are turning away from those who were there to support them early on to pursue the dream of these new markets. Since it’s a more subtle, industry-wide, move it hasn’t sparked off as many flames. On the other hand it has left a large segment of the population with a general feeling of negativity and betrayal that is hard to pin down and define.

At present moment, we have yet to see whether the markets WoW has penetrated are indeed open for the entire market. During the mean time we face the more immediate problem of the Nomads themselves. Having been burned by the market trends, they are highly likely to buy or subscribe to new MMOs but unlikely to give positive word of mouth or maintain long term attachments. This can lead to an even greater gap between early sales and actual long term subscription figures, and detract from overall sales.

Not to leave the industry out of the brow beating, we have seen a continuing problem with the business end of MMOs. It remains a common misconception that an MMO is a product when, in fact, it is a service. Despite their apparent success with EQ and EQ2, I actually consider SOE to be the greatest and most consistent offender on this count. Perhaps it is an error in my perception, but that is a failing I’ve felt every time I’ve begun a trial on one of their games. They are certainly not the only offender though, and it is a common problem throughout the industry. Luckily if it goes beyond certain limits it becomes a fatal flaw, so we should see very few examples of it’s furthest extreme.

This is what I’ve pieced together through observation, feel free to pick it apart or shred it completely.

Thought I should add – This is a thought expirement!

Basic Design Premise:
Create a massively multi-player persistent world based on artistic creation and socialization with competition but devoid of violence.

Setting (Underlying Simulation):
An urban environment with emphasis on the warehouse and downtown areas. NPCs wandering the streets taking note of any fliers, graffiti, or pamphlets they may be handed/come across. Loose instancing for personal apartments. There is a monthly ballot on which eight issues will be voted on by the NPCs, should be things that have some effect on PCs, for instance whether the city will add buildings in the warehouse district or improve roads in the warehouse district.

Art Direction:
Cold urban grit, stylized but should avoid looking childish.

Players begin in the game with a daily allowance and the shirts on their back inside of an instanced tutorial.
They may skip the tutorial or learn how to tag, create fliers and pamphlets, play instruments and even have the in-game social network explained to them. End it with them choosing positions on the current eight issues, these positions can be changed at any time, but changing does not have retroactive effects. (Players may choose to abstain.)
When players enter the world, they have a small amount of starting capital and some cans of spray paint. They can tag buildings in the warehouse district, or print and hand out fliers or pamphlets in any of the areas. These will get their side of issues before the NPCs. The NPCs will vote based on how much they see of the taggings, fliers, etc… by players with an opinion on the issue. When an issue you agree with passes, you get an increase in your allowance.
There is a tri-monthly community award contest. Players vote for other players, not themselves, for categories such as best tagging, best musician, most popular, most helpful, etc… Winners have their allowance raised proportional to their position, first place wins more than second place, so on and so forth.
Gamemasters should be actively arranging parties, “live” music performances, and so forth within the game to keep a vibrant community in the game.
Players can elect to have taggings and songs saved permanently in their profiles. To get all parts of a song from the band, simply play it while in a group and have one member save it. Members of a group may also tag collaboratively.

I’ll leave it there for this post.

You sit down at the computer after a long day of work. A brief glance at the calendar on your wall reminds you that today was supposed to be the conquest of the North Demon Tower in Shattered World. It was going to be starting two hours ago though, is it even still going? You decide to ask.

You double click on the icon in your quick task bar, bringing up the Shattered World Chat window. You click on the tab for the Guild Chat and type in quickly, “Secured the Fortress yet?”

“Get your butt in here! We’re about to break into the tower!”

You chuckle, “All right, be in there in a second.”

You double click on the Shattered World Icon and wait impatiently as it automatically resolves your login from the chat application and connects you to the server you were chatting on. You spawn in in the middle of the guild town, and run over to the channeler’s portal in front of the Town Hall. Stepping through places you at the field portal outside of the Fortress, where the players in the member guilds of another alliance are fighting off a small npc patrol. You let out a few shots from the energy cannon you’re carrying in your right hand, easily defeating the corporal npc, as you pass them, eliciting some thankful tells.

At the base of the tower you find the doors bashed open and no players in sight, obviously further up the tower. You run in and up seven circular flights of stairs before finding yourself in the middle of ninety level 300 + players milling about the gargantuan fortress commander. There are long range players lining the stairs to the room above, as six massive tanks take turns rushing in and taking the brunt of it’s angry assault. Occasionally a heavily armored transferrer will run up to one and begin field repairing their shield while the other five take over.

The boss is already down to 10% and you can tell he is powering up one of his major attacks. DPS players ran to either side, taking to the stairs hoping to avoid the worst of the blast. A tank from both of the alliances represented run forward, switching to less expensive blade shields and locking both shields together in front of them. The attack lands snapping the heavy shields in half and leaving each with barely enough health to limp, an unfortunate dpser who hadn’t quite gotten out of the way in time evaporated. ‘Sucks to be him, those were good weapons’ you think. The other four tanks ran in taking the brunt of his follow up attacks, so their damaged companions could switch to other shields and put some biomass towards regenerating.

You run in on the boss, unleashing energy blasts while getting into the thick of it with your bladed left arm. Next to you a guy who had obviously put almost all his biomass into dense muscles and leg spikes was going at him like an angry little Brazilian Capoiera master. The health dropped down to 6%, then five minutes later to 5%. 4%, 3%, you’re guild leader calls for an energy barrage in tactical chat, and you can hear the distinct tunk of setting your energy weapon to charge being echoed all around you. Halfway to 2%, the final ranged user reports, “charged”.

“Fire!” The leader of the other Alliance yells for the whole room, and all at once everyone fires. The light going into the boss is blinding, but can’t stop the reports of “weapon melted, glad I switched to my secondary” from flooding the tactical chat. You check yours but it seems your weapon survived, barely, but it did make it. The boss is down to one tenth of a percent of health left, the dpsers land their final blows, ending it’s existence.

Tactical chat becomes very busy for a while as people tally up the biomass and progress scrip totals coming their way, metals of varying rarity also seem to be pouring in. Finally as everyone calms down the various guild leaders of the two alliances meet in the center of the room. The alliance members shuffle around, trying to make sure they have position on the others should the dealings go south. They all waited for the moment that an alliance war would be announced and they would be free to attack within thirty levels of their own.

You even watch as some of them redirect their biomass into pvp builds, changing their appearance.

Finally your leader says, “North, South split.”
“Only if we get the North.”
Your leader goes silent for a minute.
“Then we get the tower.”
“Fair is fair, you know as well as I do it’s worth it.”
The other leader pauses, then finally nods.
“All right, but it’ll cost thirty thousand scrip.”
“Oh come on, twenty thousand is more than enough.”
“Twenty thousand! That won’t even buy us enough biomass to repair all our gear!”
“Twenty five then.”
“Twenty seven at least.”
“Twenty five.”
“Twenty seven.”
“Twenty five, and we’ll pay the guards.”
“Sounds good.”
“So we have a deal then?”
“We have a deal.”

The strategy channel tab flashed.
“Incoming, looks like their pretty pissed. Got a couple Attack Commanders with two whole divisions backing them up. Could be more though.”
“We’ve got npc backup incoming from Ventrair.”
“Holy shit, it’s the fucking Angel Stompers!”
“This far north, I thought they were all busy holding back the Angels down south…”
“Well theres twenty of them headed straight for me. One sent me a tell, looks like they want to help us out with defense to train up some noobs.”
“How many noobs?”
“They say about fifty.”
“Well tell them we’re glad they’re helping! Someone send Krog a tell, he needs to tell his alliance not to attack them.”
“Oi, pirate bastards heading this way too. I don’t get the feeling they want to talk.”
“Great, like we needed to beat down more dick heads today.”

Private tell from your friend:
“Aren’t you so glad you logged on today, lol.”

Just a thought on a possible mechanic allowing for sword dueling inside an MMO.

From the first person perspective you stand at about 4-6 feet away from your opponent. Just far enough for your blades to touch 6 inches below the tip.

Left click is a lunging attack, right click is a slashing attack. When you move the sword without attacking it can act as a block. While blocked, you can push against their sword by tapping space bar. It adds an amount of force dependent on your strength statistic, likewise for blocking, perhaps on a global cool down. W moves you one step toward your enemy, S moves you one step away, A sidesteps to the left, D sidesteps to the right.

The tip of the sword follows the mouse, allowing you to move it about the screen in order to block. Number keys may control different stances and ways of holding the sword. Moving the sword in front of a slash attack can block that attack, moving it across a lunge can push it aside. You’re ability to block or push aside a lunge is controlled by strength. Speed of your steps would of course be speed, and speed of a strike would be dexterity.

Different combinations of strikes and movements in particular contexts would be the “special moves” and, if you have classes, could be class dependent.