Study Investigates Game Loyalty in MMO Market

Researchers at the University of Buffalo have concluded that the way to get ahead in the MMO business–give players more control over their online personas while providing opportunities for collaboration, citing things like more elaborate chat and guild systems to allow greater levels of collaboration.  The study also states the games should provide players equal opportunity to win a battle, which actually goes against mainstream gamer thought and the special snowflake mentality.

There’s a bit more in the article, but it’s mostly … kind of common sense to me.  The games that have the greatest followings allow players to collaborate extensively and customize their avatar to the Nth degree.  The most I can make the experience my own, the more loyal and devoted to the space I will be.  I know a large part of the reason I stopped playing WoW was because I lost both these things – A strong, fun guild and the feeling that I could control how I played.  Off topic a bit, but I also believe the the ability to fail and screw something up is integral to a good game experience.  Playing God is rarely engaging.

Anyway, hit the link bellow to read a bit more about it.

Via: Level Up: Study Reveals Keys to Gamer Loyalty

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

In Slash Yell, this week I explore the death of a game.  

It’s a situation we will all face at some point in the future–some of us will have (or have had) the misfortune of experiencing it again and again–the death of our game.  MMOs are unique in the gaming space because they are, down a to a one, transitory.  One of the things that makes MMOs so special is also that thing that causes us the most pain.  Any other games that you buy you have the disk, all the game content–you can pick it up and play whenever you’d like even if the company is long long gone.

MMOs aren’t like that though.  If the company goes under, the world disappears forever.  There’s virtually no getting it back, though the possibility of it resurrecting is there its just not very probable.  People, myself included, fall in love with these games, and our digital homes become just that — a home.  But more than the loss of a game world, I think we lose part of ourselves as well.  In essence, the death of a game is a bit like the death of little piece of yourself.

For those of you who missed my earlier post, Glitch, a browser based MMO, is closing it’s doors in about a month.  I’m lucky in that this is the first MMO I’ve actively played that has planned to close down.  I wasn’t the highest level, but I did play a fair amount and I really enjoyed it.  It’s sad to see it go.  In fact, it’s much sadder than I expected it to be.

In my graduate work, I wrote about how we, as players, interact with our avatars in virtual worlds.  One of the things I wrote about was the idea of the avatar in MMOs as an extension of ourselves — or the Self (with the capital S for those of the psychoanalytical background).  Keep in mind, this is different from Role-playing.  I think of this as a universal extension of ourselves, whether you explicitly role-play in game or not.  But, more than just the avatar, the game itself affects our relationship with the avatar, and our perceptions of who we are.

I play a lot of different games, but I don’t have the same relationship with my avatar in WoW as I do in Glitch.  They are different.  In a really broad sense, I’m not the same person when I’m playing WoW as when I’m playing Glitch.  Without getting too theoretical, who we are and who we see ourselves to be is influenced by games like Glitch.  When you take away the game, it changes who we are–we lose that experience of what it’s like to be a Glitchen, and we can never get it back.

We take all the pictures we can to remember what it was like to be a Glitch, what it felt like in that game.  Even moving to a new game it won’t be the same, even if the whole community moved.  Even if Glitch came back, it wouldn’t be the same.  We’ve lost part of our identity with the death of the game.  A piece of who we are is now irrevocably gone.

I think it’s important to mention that it’s not the time that’s “lost,” or grief over the loss of the money or effort into the game.  Games like Glitch are labors of love for those who play them.  Yes, they lost out on time and money, but it’s what’s inside that really counts for those players.  To experience this, you only need to listen to global chat to see the end of the world is all that anyone is talking about.  People are giving away things in-game that took weeks if not months of work to get to, just to let other people experience them for a bit before the game goes away.

People keep on going as if their efforts in game will be rewarded long-term, even though they know they won’t be.  They try for achievements, get trophies–hell, I even spent a few hours “cleaning” my house, which had my stuff scattered all over it (much like IRL house).  I wanted everything to be perfect for the end of the all things.  I spent time re-decorating, rearranging getting everything exactly as I wanted it.

Then, I took screenshots.  Lots and lots of screenshots.  Just to remember what it was I had, and had no more.  To remember who I was as a Glitchen, what that meant to me as a whole person, and who I was after the fact.  In the end, that’s all I can do.  Sit and wait with the rest of the game.

Seeking a friend for the end of the world.  

Apply within Ur: Serrenitei


My First Guild Wars 2 Dungeon

My first dungeon in Guild Wars 2 was quite an experience.  My guild (which is small, we are spread across several games and people are rather attached to their individual games) decided we wanted to run the first one – Ascalon Catacombs.  There were only 4 of us available at the time, but we figured why not and gave it a run anyway.

So it was, that a Mesmer, Elementalist, Necromancer and Ranger set off on their first dungeon adventure together.  I’m not really sure what I expected–I knew from just watching the blogosphere that things were hard in the dungeons and that there really wasn’t any hand-holding.  Yeah, that was pretty accurate.  But man was it fun.

When we first zoned in and took down one mob, and we were like “Wow, that was just … one.”  The next pull we tried two mobs … and wiped.  Rezzed, and wiped again.  Third time was the charm and we finally made it by.  It was really fun in an infuriating kind of way because we had to play the game differently than what we were expecting.  The removal of the holy trinity was really more of a challenge than we were expecting.  There are so many enemy abilities that require moving, or dodging/rolling, and dying.  Dying happened a lot.

With just the 4 of us, we actually had quite a bit of issue with pulls of three.  Two we could handle most of the time (though some class combinations causes us more angst than others).  The boss fights were fun and also challenging (I’m looking at you, Lovers!). And we died … a lot.  As for trash mobs, there actually weren’t that many, but each pull felt challenging.  It was nearly impossible for us to get single pulls most of the time after the first fight, and so focused fire was particularly important because if we all chose different targets, we all died.

I personally really enjoyed that straight DPS wasn’t that important.  It was just as important to move around, help your teammates rally when they went down, and even STOP dps’ing if you were low on life and you needed to stay up — let someone else take aggro.  Each player alternately filled all the roles of the holy trinity.

WoW Continues to Bleed Subscribers

As reported by Massively, World of Warcraft is down to a Whopping 9.1 million subscribers, about a million lower than a quarter ago in May.  This has to be making big-cat Activision-Blizzard anxious, despite the admittedly positive tone of the report.  Between Diablo III’s impressive launch (for both positive and negative reasons), and Mists of Pandaria’s impending launch, the company is lined up for a strong quarter.  

My concern is the staying power of WoW.  The responses I’ve heard in the blogosphere, even the fansites, has been decidedly “Meh.”  about the next expansion.  I don’t think this has anything to do with the topic of the expansion (pandas — loosely tied to lore), I think it has more to do with Blizzard painting itself into a proverbial corner with their game-design and a few other reasons I covered previously.  That, combined with the fact that the first round of Annual Pass subscribers is coming up real quick (and I know of at least 2 people who will be cancelling when that hits.)  I have to wonder what their numbers will look like come November.  

Regardless, Ghostcrawler and company might be showing their age a little bit.  

Via: World of Warcraft has 9.1 million subscribers, down by a million since May on Massively 

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.

Initial Thoughts – The Secret World

There’s a solid chance you’ve heard some people talking about Funcom’s The Secret World.  There’s an equally solid chance you’ve seen the positive response to the game.  Not 100% positive, but a pretty solid percentage of people seem to really like the game.  I’m definitely one of those people.  The game has been a refreshing change in an age of gag-inducing homogeny in MMOs, and the game industry in general.  It’s with some tongue and cheek that I note that a lot of things that make the game fun for me are relics from older games. 
At this point, I’ve been playing the game for a little over a week, and I’m probably 30 hours into the game.  By 30hrs into the game, I don’t mean that I’m 30 hours through the game.  Actually, it’s only been in the last 5 hours or so that I’ve moved into the second zone of the game.  The first zone took me about 20 hours to get through (give or take a couple hours).  But I’m a completionist and outside of the first dungeon, I did literally every quest in the zone I could find, found all the lore tidbits (I think…)–I milked that zone for all it was worth. 
 My favorite part of that?  When I totally finish out a zone in most MMOs, by the time I’m done I’m way outside the level range for the zone, and half-way through the level range for the next zone.  TSW this didn’t happen at all.  I played through the whole first zone, and STILL got ROFL-stomped when venturing into the next zone.  It was glorious.  Part of this is because your effectiveness is primarily determined by the “quality level” (or QL) of your gear.  QLs currently go from QL0 (starter weapons) to QL10 (end-game stuff).  So even though I was get more and more abilities and spending skill points, the increase in damage was incremental enough that I couldn’t out-level the zone before I was supposed to. 
This is all part of the idea that I’m not being forcibly shoved, nearly against my will to reaching max level.  The game invites you meander in a lot of ways.  A lot of games I feel compelled to continue to make choices and progress as the game dictates.  While there’s still a lot of that in TSW, the places where it opens that up, in the questing, the lore, character development makes the game feel much more geared towards me doing things in my own way.  If I want, I can totally slingshot my way end-game, powering through all the quests.  Or, I can play around, run the same quest 4 times if I really want , enjoy the voice acting, the cut scenes with really believable characters.


 There are still some bugs in the game–quests that don’t trigger correctly or don’t fire as they are supposed to, there were some chat issues early on, but pretty small potatoes when compared with most other MMO launches.  Maybe all others — being kind of an MMO addict, I’ve played most recent (within the last 3-5 years) MMOs at launch, ad this has definitely been the smoothest.  There will always be a few bugs (I work in software, there’s always a bug someplace), but the ones I’ve seen reported in TSW are far, far from game breaking. 
I can say, I’ve been following the game since probably about 2008ish or so, and I was really excited about it, then the excitement faded.  Even then, I still pre-ordered and I’m glad I did.  I’m enjoying this and losing myself in the game in a way that I haven’t in a really long time.  As to whether I’ll stay interested in the game is up in the air, but I have a feeling I’ll be playing the game for a while to come. 

Outdated Labels for an Outdated Model

The terms ‘Casual’ and ‘Hardcore’ are terms that as our industry matures, grow more problematic.  Self-labelled hardcore players say casual players are ruining their medium, that gaming is dying because of the casuals.  Casuals complain that the hardcore are ruining games by wanting to keep it all to themselves, and everyone seems to refer back to the self-affirmed “Golden Age” of gaming when their needs were met with rose-colored goodness. 

Of course, the reality of the situation is that self-identified hardcore players can rarely support any claims they make, the self-identified casuals can’t agree on what makes them casual, and the rose-tinted musings of days gone by are never good as they seem.  Yet, many games continue to reinforce these divisions. 

I think a large part of the problem here is that as a society, and especially as gamers, we are used to things being reductionist — that we can distill everything down to key traits that allow us to easily and simply categorize things and assign value to them.  That’s exactly what we have here is the attempt to zero in on 2-3 traits that define casual/hardcore/elite and make those the defining characteristics of the label, and that we need to be able to say “This is better than that…” because in games, it’s what we do all the time.  All of our decisions in game essentially boil down to this dichotomy, so it only makes sense to me that we would try to do that with gamers too.

But even here, reading the comments on Massively, that’s clearly not true of gamers themselves.  There were easily 20 different definitions of casual/hardcore dichotomy, and virtually no agreement on what exactly that means.  Everyone identifies 1-2 traits of gamers and say that definitely, without exception, this is what makes a hardcore player or a casual player.  It bears to mention here that there is no middle ground in this paradigm, and gamers are prone to hyperbole. 

In truth, I think that the term ‘casual’ is outdated because it doesn’t really exist as it’s being used.  We see rage on this forum about the “casuals” ruining games, or this particular play-style ruining games but no one ever seems to have concrete examples of these people.  It’s always “on the forums….” but never linked.  Or in Trade chat, but never screenshotted.  Personally, I’ve never seen ANYONE say that they want more in the game for doing less.  At all.  To me, this term refers to a “boogey man” of sorts in gaming. 

For me, the most telling distinction between gamers (but by no means the only distinction) is that some want the prestige with getting to the endgame and beating the hardest boss.  It’s like getting to Eagle Scout, right?  It’s an elite club that shows their dedication to achieving this particular goal in the game — often to the exclusion of other goals the game might offer. 

Other players get gratification out of other things in the game, and they want recognition for those things too.  They want their own “Eagle Scout” club for not necessarily beating the final boss, but for doing something else in the game really well, that’s not easy to get to, and again, often to the exclusion of other goals the game offers.
I think the problem beyond this is two fold, but ultimately related–the first is like I said before, as players we are conditioned to in all things say “This is better than that…” so, as their isn’t another challenge in the game similar to clearing end-game content (at least in repute), that becomes the greatest thing — the best (and in most cases only) “Eagle Scout” distinction in the game. 

I think a lot of this (not all) could be solved by recognizing that within a game like an MMO, there NEEDS to be more systemic goals in the game that are not focused around defeating a final boss.  For example, I would love a game where my combat takes a back seat to my crafting skills, and where because I can focus on my crafting, I can make things that those players who focus on combat can’t.  That would give me a goal to strive for, give me content and stuff to do in game, while still giving those who want the “defeat the boss” goal to be challenging. 

MMOs as a whole need to grow up and learn to account for different playstyles and different game goals.  Sure, there will still be players who say this is better than that — we will never get away from that.  But by diversifying goals, you can appeal to more players, and let everyone have their own goals in game instead of shoe-horning everyone into a single goal.

Via Massively

Final Fantasy Distant Worlds is Amazing

Over the weekend, a group of my friends and I went to the Distant Worlds show here in the burgh.  While I enjoy the Final Fantasy games, I’ve never been the biggest FF fan, but I thought the experience would be fun, and my friends were all crazy geeked out about it. 

Similar to the Video Games Live concert series, but dedicated entirely to the Final Fantasy franchise.  The concert was just a little over two hours, and outside of a mic-squeal during a classic guitar solo, everything was flawless. 

I didn’t really know what expect–I had played games before, but it’s not horribly often that the music makes a lasting impression.  Not that the music is bad or not memorable, but rather that it just jives for me in the “atmosphere” of the game. 

There are still some songs that really stick out for me — like the theme to Dragon Age: Origin, The Lament of the Highbourne, and a few others.  I have to say, I wish I had paid a bit more attention.  I loved the concert–it was definitely worth the costs of the tickets.  In particular, I loved Zanarkand, but the Chocobo Swing (and the accompanying video) was awesome as well. 

All in all, if you have the chance to see this in concert, definitely go.  The tickets might be a little pricey, but it was totally worth it.  Such a great experience.  I don’t think I need to reiterate the awesome atmosphere of live music — that’s only enhanced here. 

Bounce on over to their site to take a gander – Final Fantasy Distant World