Accessibility in MMOs – Part 3

 

So, I received a few comments on Part 1 and Part 2 that I was being entitled, elitist, pretty much a general asshole–all these things that I really wasn’t intending and definitely don’t think of myself as being when I was trying to talk about Accessibility in MMOs. My bad. So I decided to write a 3 part to this series to hopefully clear up some of the concepts that I didn’t do a good job of communicating the first time. Continue reading “Accessibility in MMOs – Part 3”

The Diminishing of World of Warcraft

This post has been brewing in the back of my mind for quite a while now.  I want to start by saying that World of Warcraft is not now, nor has it ever been a bad game.  In fact, it’s one of the best games ever made and it’s ongoing influence in the MMO space cannot be discounted.  The WoW-model of design for MMOs is still very much in effect today as it was when WoW was first launched.  However, I think that WoW as it is has been diminished from what it was.  The game is still epic, but it’s just not “as epic” as it was.

So let me start by talking about my history in the game.  I started to play World of Warcraft right before the launch of The Burning Crusade.  I played, stereotypically, a hunter–that I only got to level 20–keeping in mind that at that point, level 20 was a decent portion into the game.  When TBC came out, I rolled a Blood Elf Rogue, and that’s been my main ever since.  I loved the rogue class (coming from a Ranger in Neverwinter Nights), and I really enjoyed being a stabby character.  I feel in love with the lore of the Blood Elves, so much that I have the Blood Elf crest tattooed on my side (easily, the most painful place).

Even still, I played the game off and on for months.  I didn’t have a guild so playing the game was always a little bit … well, boring.  I did a few server transfers and landed on a server and found a guild towards the end of TBC that I stayed with all through Cataclysm.  For me, Wrath of the Lich King was my WoW hayday.  Not because of gameplay changes, but because of the guild that I played with was a ton of fun, we got along great.  We weren’t even close to the best guild in game, but we had fun and that was all that mattered.

Towards the end of Wrath, the guild exploded, splintering off in different directions.  I continued to play regularly again more of a “free agent” than an actual guild member, but without access to raids to get gear, I was repeatedly kicked from PUGs in the dungeon finder for not having enough DPS (even though I needed gear from the dungeon).  This wasn’t just a once or twice thing, but when I would try to play, in a run of 4-5 heroics, I would be kicked from 3-4 for being ungeared and they didn’t want to “carry” anyone.  Its not that I didn’t know how to play my class — I did.  I was always effective as a rogue.  Most of the time I was kicked based entirely on GearScore–nothing else.

Eventually, after meeting my partner and having a few WoW dates, we both eventually moved away from WoW and onto other games, but we keep active subscriptions, and keep coming back.  And finding it disappointing again, and moving on again.  This brings me to what I consider to be the diminishing of WoW: the inclusion of GearScore into the game proper, and allowing faction transfers.

I think that GearScore is likely the worst thing to happen to a game.  It attempts boil a player down to a discrete number, which when correlated to other numbers such as DPS, comes up with entirely new ways of discrimination. The actual skill of the player is irrelevant — the only thing that matters is your GearScore.  To a lesser degree, if your GearScore is appropriate but you aren’t hitting some arbitrary number that someone has decided you should be at in DPS, HPS, etc, you are judged by that too.

Now, if this were just the realm of the elite, it wouldn’t be a problem for me.  It should only apply to those who are trying to clear the highest, toughest tier of content, the min-maxers.  But it doesn’t.  Players in WoW apply this to every aspect of gameplay now.  Something as simple as running dungeons can now be denied to me if I don’t have what some consider to be appropriate gear.  Even if the gear I need to get better is in that dungeon.  Worse, Blizzard actually incorporated this singular number as their gating mechanism.  There’s something fundamentally wrong with making the summation of a player a single number, which intended or not determines whether someone can play the game.

The second is faction transfers.  The inspiration for this one came when I was recently at an amusement park and saw someone with a Horde tattoo.  I’m a stalwart Horde player (hence the belf tattoo).  So naturally I got excited and pointed it out to my partner who replied with, “Like that matters anymore … no one cares about Horde or Alliance anymore.”  Allowing faction transfers for existing characters I think undermined a fundamental core mechanic of the game, which has always been about the conflict between the Horde and the Alliance.  In the MMO space, it’s a fairly unique dynamic. When you think, there are still not many games that build this faction conflict into the story quite like WoW.

I was (and still am, even if it’s a meaningless distinction now) part of the Horde.  I was vested in the Horde and really enjoyed playing in it.  I had never rolled an alliance character above level 5.  I never wanted to play Alliance, I disliked Alliance.  But once faction change went live, and my guild imploded, I did what I thought I would never do — I faction changed to Alliance to play with other friends.  I learned my way around Stormwind.  I tried to play for a while, my Worgen Rogue scampering about.  But for me, it just wasn’t the same.  A few months later I transferred back to my blood elf rogue.

But I think the damage was already done.  My choice to choose Alliance or Horde was already meaningless.    By being able to move back and forth between factions with no repercussions at all (outside of my wallet…I don’t consider those “game” repercussions), I made my choice to pick a faction utterly void.  It didn’t matter anymore.  It still doesn’t matter.  Ultimately, I think that this is the greatest diminishing of WoW — the game has become one meaningless choice after another.  If I don’t like a choice, I pay money–things change.  My spec is meaningless now.  I lack any real choice in anything that matters — I have choices of utility left in the game, but even those are meaningless.  I have no consequences in game for re-speccing, faction changing–anything.  A choice without consequences is at it’s heart, not a choice.  A choice must have consequences or it’s utterly meaningless.

While this happens all the time in WoW, for me the faction change is the choice that diminished the game the most for me.  My choice to be Horde is meaningless because there are no repercussions to changing to Alliance.  I think in a larger sense, the lack of consequences for my choices is what has made WoW less than what it was.

Like I said, I don’t think WoW is a bad game, or that it’s dying.  I don’t think any of those things, but I do think it’s been diminished from what it was through the implementation and tacit acceptance of GearScore and the gradual removal of all consequences for any choice you make in the game.  Literally, nothing in the game at this point has any consequences anymore.  And a game without meaningful, consequential choices isn’t much of a game for me.

SWTOR Sweeps GDC Online Game Nominations – Really?

Uh, what?  Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic nets a total 6 nominations for the GDA Choice Online Awards, and I’m sure I’m not alone when I say, “Come Again?”  Not that the game was bad – I played it for a month before I got bored.  It was polished, pretty, and utterly run of the mill.  Outside of some slight differences in class structure and crafting, the game was stunningly underwhelming.  Still, it received nominations for Innovation, Audio, Game Design, Visual Arts, Technology, and Best New Online Game.

So …. yeah, I’m curious how a game that was pretty universally regarded as “good, but nothing special…” and from which a large number of gamers flocked to, then away from got nominated for so many awards.  Again, not that the game was bad by any stretch, but I know I personally, I was really unimpressed with the game.  So I’m really surprised and I’m not gonna lie, a little bit skeptical about these nominations.

Via: SWTOR dominates GDC Online Awards nominations @ Massively

Tera Wars – The Old Republic

Totally PennyArcade — and amazing

I’ve played all of these, and I totally agree with PA on this (except maybe the SWTOR piece – I found SWTOR to be pretty bland in a lot of ways.)  But Guild Wars 2 and TERA, even those two games frankesteined together would be great. 

Check it out over at PennyArcade – it’s been up there a few days, but it definitely bears going to check out and read again. 

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2012/05/02/the-ultimatrix

Star Wars: The Old Republic – 14 Day Thoughts

So, with 3 weeks at home (instead of on the road) and some time off from the graduate work, I’ve actually had the opportunity to play some games (totally unheard of,  I know!).  So, over the next couple days I’m going to give my impressions of various new games.  I’m trying to stay away from the “review” word, it’s not a review, it’s just my thoughts about the games.  Anyway, moving on – Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Anxiously awaited, long touted as a WoW-killer, a game-changer in the MMO space, new and innovative with it’s use of all voice-overs.  I’ll be honest, the only reason I got the game was because my mom was at a loss as to what to get me for Christmas, and being mildly interested, I told her to get me SWTOR.  And, well..she did.

So, I get all loaded up and play a Jedi Consular on the Republic side–I usually play the “misunderstood anti-establishment” factions, but the Sith were just too evil for me,.  The character creation process was a little less than what I was expecting.  While there are more options than like World of Warcraft (is it possible to write about a MMO without mentioning WoW?), the options left me wanting more, not satisfied with what I had.  For male body types, you can play nerd (small and scrawny), Adonis (Tall, muscular and statuesque), or a human-barrel hybrid (short, and disproportionally squat).  Female body types are differentiated primarily by cup-size.

As I’ve seen mentioned over and over again, it’s a bit upsetting that most all of the races basically looked human, with the exception of Twi-lek, with the two large tentacle-ish things on their heads instead of hair.  The rest of customizations are pretty much standard fare–complexion, facial features, and scars/tattoos, etc.  Nothing overly exciting or out of the ordinary here.

The opening cinematic is amazing to watch, and I was hankering to start chopping things up with my own personal glowy stick.  Getting into game–it plays pretty much like everything other MMO ever.  The key difference being that you pick your class until level 10.  At creation you pick an “arch-class”, that has two possible specializations.  So, as a consular I could choose at level 10 to be a shadow (rogue) or a Sage (caster/healer).  So I learn some basics of both classes up until level 10, then gain new abilities from my specialization while continuing to develop my consular abilities.

After picking your specialization, you then get the tried and true talent trees.  Ever level you get a point to add someplace.  It’s much like the first generation of WoW talent trees before they started to try and make the system easier to understand and more predictable.  As a Shadow, I had the options of a tank specialization, a stealthy specialization, and a melee/close-ranged damage spec– I chose the melee/close-ranged spec as it was the least cookie-cutter.  Just about the same time you choose your real class, you also get a companion to help you throughout your journeys.  As you progress through the game, you get additional companions, though only can ever have 1 at a time out with you.

Companions are actually how you use and level up your crafting skills.  In a slight deviation from the norm, you can pick 3 skills which consists of choices from gatherings skills, crafting skills, and mission skills.  You can only ever choose a single crafting skill, but can take the others in any combination you’d like.  The mission skills provide rare components for crafting as well as gifts to give your companion to raise their approval of you.  Your answers in dialogue and quests throughout the game also influence this approval rating.  The higher the approval, the faster the companion completes the tasks, and has a less of a risk of failure.

After approximately level 20 (I got there at 18) you get your own personal ship, which is SWTOR’s player housing more or less.  You can take your ship on Star-Fox style space combat missions that are pretty lame.  There’s a lot Bioware could have done there that they just didn’t.  Enemies in space combat never attack from behind, it’s pretty simple to play and not very challenging truth be told.  I don’t know, I was hoping for something…more in-depth.

At this writing, I’m level 22, and the game feels more like a first player game the other people occasionally visit to me.  I’ve read that at later levels it feels more like a true MMO, but up until this point, I’ve not had to really worry about finding a group, instances, or anything like that.  Almost everything up until this point can be completed solo.

 Overall the game is solid–I think the most annoying thing for me is that literally every quest is voice-overed, which means loading times everytime you click on something.  The longest I waited was maybe 8-10seconds for loading, which actually did more to break the illusion of the game for me than just text.  It’s a little thing, but still annoying.

Everything the game does is solid, polished and well thought-out.  I think the biggest issues are first that Bioware doesn’t totally understand the MMO space, thus feeling that at least for approx. the first 20-30hours of the game feels like a single player game.  Then, the game doesn’t really ever take any risks — it takes the precedent set by earlier games in the genre and executes them flawlessly, but at it’s heart – it more of the same.  The differences are minute, and not horribly influential on the overall game play.