Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dragon Age 2 - Is This Bioware's "4th Pillar?"

I am now almost, finally, finished with my first play through of Dragon Age 2.  It's taken me a long time, playing in fits and spurts and just generally not really getting into it.  At the prodding of a friend I'm pushing on through to try and finish the thing, and at this point I have a few things to say about the game.

The game certainly has many positive improvements over its predecessor.  The graphics are better, the conversations are more interactive and the PC having a voice is nice.  Streamlining the crafting system and removing the fatigue system were both solid quality of life improvements.  Runes giving benefits based on the quality of the item they're slotted in is a big plus in my book.  I also like that each companion has there own unique skill tree in addition to the ones every member of their class has.  Overall, the game has been moderately enjoyable to play.

There's a "but" though.  A really big one. More than one to be honest.  Dragon Age 2 came out very quickly after the Dragon Age expansion, Awakenings.  That suggests the game might have been rushed a little, and unlike typical Bioware games, that seems to be the case.  There is a disturbing lack of polish to the game, and an annoying number of inconsistencies in stories and events.  I haven't encountered too many actual bugs, but the game just feels very rough at times.  I think DA2 could have benefited greatly by an additional 4-6 months in the oven.  Even two or three more could have made a world of difference.

While I understand the reasoning behind having the text displayed on the conversation wheel differ from what the character actually says (repetition is boring) I've lost count of the number of times what Hawke says has absolutely no relation to the text I chose whatsoever.  Saying the same thing in a different way is fine.  Saying something different is not.  Why give me a choice if my choice doesn't matter?  Of course, that sort of comes back to the "number of inconsistencies" complaint I had earlier.

The combat has also been a disappointment for me.  Sure it looks nice.  It makes for some great promo videos.  When actually playing though it's pretty monotonous.  Whereas Dragon Age had an emphasis on highly tactical fights with small numbers of strong enemies and fairly frequent use of bosses, Dragon Age 2 has focused on massive brawls with large numbers of weak enemies, often coming in waves, and very few bosses. So in general the fights are easier (and thus more mindless) but take as long or longer (due to numbers and waves), and rarely culminate in anything as there are so few bosses.  Ogres in Dragon Age were fearsome foes and the first battle with one was very difficult.  Ogres in the sequel are pushovers who only manage to kill someone in a cutscene.  I don't consider this an improvement.

Dragon Age was always somewhat "on rails" with only the illusion of an open, explorable world.  DA2 has discarded the illusion and turned the game world into a series of compartments that are accessed through an overview screen.  Kirkwall doesn't feel like a contiguous place to me, whereas Ferelden did.  Well, closer to it anyway.  So they divide the game into little boxes and then fail to take advantage of some of the benefits of doing that.  The game world tends to be very unchanging, much like an MMO, and not at all like a highly instanced single player rpg.  Once the dragon burns down the mines the equipment there burns forever.  You can leave and go back as much as you like, and the fires just keep burning.  It's bad enough in an MMO, but what excuse is there in a game like DA2?  Laziness?

The single biggest issue I have with Dragon Age 2 though, is story.  Or rather, the lack thereof.  From a developer proposing to revitalize the MMO genre by bringing the story of it's single player games into the MMO format, Dragon Age 2 is surprisingly lackluster in the story department.  Unlike the original game which featured an epic quest to stop the Blight while simultaneously taking down a traitor to the crown and installing a new king, DA2 has you mostly . . . running errands.  The "story" of DA2 seems to be "the crap that Hawke had to deal with in Kirkwall over 5 years".  Instead of a single overarching epic, we have dozens of little short stories.  It's all very MMO-like.

Instead of injecting single-player story goodness into their MMO title, Bioware seems to have injected multiplayer quest blah-ness into their single player title.  I can only hope that they'll take the time to make Dragon Age 3 a better game, and merge the aspects of the original game and its sequel that worked, rather than use Dragon Age 2 as the starting point, or worse yet, start from scratch.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Blizzard's Premium Dungeon Finder

So apparently Blizzard has come up with a plan to charge players extra for the ability to form groups with RealID friends regardless of the server they're on.  I'm really not sure what to think.

On the one hand it's bound to be a useful feature to people with lots of friends playing the game who don't want to (or can't) transfer servers.  The ability to play with friends wherever they may be is always a plus.  I can't help but feel that it's not really a fair thing to charge extra for though.  It's the same functionality as the dungeon finder, just focused to those on your RealID list.  I can see that some work would be required as it (presumably) will allow you to group with friends regardless of which server cluster (battlegroup) they're on, which the current dungeon finder does not do.

Blizzard isn't working on a shoe string budget here.  They can't claim that if they couldn't charge for this they wouldn't have had the money to develop it in the first place.  Honestly this feels like a service that should be part of the subscription.  Even without charging extra for it they would likely make money, as an increased ability to play with your friends will lead to increased retention.  Better retention equals more subscription revenue, and thus, profit.

I also wonder why Blizzard is stopping there.  If you're going to charge extra for it, why not go the extra mile and make it cross faction too.  Who cares anymore?  The whole Horde vs. Alliance conflict is a war in name only (WINO?) so if people are going to pay a premium, let them cross that boundary too.  I know the ability to do that might actually tempt me back into the game, as I have plenty of friends playing Horde on other servers, and the ability to actually group with them on my Alliance mains has a lot of appeal.  If they had had that feature I could have avoided transferring my Horde characters to Alliance in order to play with a friend.

World of Tanks - New Patch

So World of Tanks released a fairly substantial patch yesterday.  I find it interesting that we're not yet at version 1.0 of World of Tanks (just 0.6.4 or something like that).  Does that mean we're technically still playing a pre-release version of the game?  Certainly many of the features listed on the wiki site don't appear to be in game yet.  Anyway, on to the patch.

I saw one of the new maps last night, on which we were winning, winning, winning, massacred, omg game over.  Not really sure what happened, we had a strong lead and then suddenly half our team exploded.  The map seemed interesting (the "hills" map) but I was sniping with a pitiful Marder II and didn't get to see much.  I also saw the "mines" map, which is a retool of a map I've forgotten the name of.  The one with a big hill in the middle that everyone rushes to only to blow up in a massive tank melee.  I liked the changes, the map felt bigger and less constrained by the terrain.  Of course, I lost on that map too.  Since the patch my T1 Heavy seems more vulnerable than ever, but I don't know why it would be.

The new premium tanks seem decent enough, certainly more worth the money than the old ones which just weren't very good.  Yes you could instantly buy your way into a heavy tank, but they were heavy tanks with pitiful un-upgradeable guns.  Thick armor isn't much use when you can't blow anything up.

The other changes were mostly quality of life improvements.  There's now a little star next to each tank in your garage to show that tank hasn't gotten double xp yet (your first victory of a day earns you double xp) which is very helpful for keeping track of which tanks have gotten that useful victory and which haven't.  There's also a small banner at the bottom of the screen when you're destroyed that shows you your options - right click to jump your camera to an ally, ESC to exit the match.  When I first started playing the game I didn't know about either option, and would grab a book or alt-tab after being destroyed.  Silly.

It seemed like I got de-tracked slightly less than before.  Maybe.  It still happened a lot, and is still as irritating as ever.

Sadly Wargaming.net was unable to patch out my suckiness.  In the middle tiers the competition is much fiercer than the lower levels, as generally speaking someone has to have played a fair bit in order to get there (premium tanks excepted of course).  As a result, I count it a victory if I get a single kill in a match, a solid victory if I get a kill and don't die myself, and something worthy of cheers and jubilation if I manage to take down more than one foe before my own clanking jalopy goes up in a shower of flame and debris.

Friday, May 13, 2011

City of Heroes - Goodnight Sweet Prince

I've been a fan of City of Heroes for a very long time.  I was amongst the first people to sign up on the official forums, and got into wave 2 of the closed beta.  I posted on the beta forums frequently (for me) and often argued with the notorious Macallen.  I even wrote an article for a community I was part of back then, Gamers with Jobs, under the handle Paladin.  I was about as big a fanboy for City of Heroes as I've ever been for any game.

I subscribed to the game for a very long time too.  I have nearly 4 years worth of veteran rewards, which is far longer than I've subscribed to any other MMO.  The next closest contender is WoW at just shy of 3 years, and after that are probably EQ and DAoC at a little under 2 each.  I'm a bit of an MMO nomad, but I'd always come back to City of Heroes to check out new updates that sounded interesting.  This is not to say I think it's the best MMO out there.  It's not.  But I loved the freedom of the character creator and had dozens of alts.  I loved the ability to mix and match powersets, and was always on the hunt for the "ultimate" combination (never found one, a pox on balance!).  It was also a nice change from all the fantasy stuff out there, which to this day I am really quite tired of.  Give me some more genres, please!

Magma Force, signing off
City of Heroes is currently doing a free activation week, where any past subscribers in good standing can log in and play.  They had a major update not that long ago, so there's bound to be new stuff to see but . . . I found I have no desire to play the game at all.  Apparently, I am finally "done" with City of Heroes.

Is it me, or is it the game?  I think it's a little of both.  The most damning issue is that City of Heroes has failed to substantially evolve with the times.  Fundamental gameplay is exactly the same now as it was in 2004.  If I log in, I know exactly what I'll be doing -- running door missions.  Over and over and over.  They've added new ways to do door missions over the years, but they're still door missions.  The player created content was a great idea, but in the end, still door missions.  The new missions they added in the Going Rogue expansion were a step up, but they only existed in the level 1-20 game.  The structure of the Going Rogue expansion itself was a problem, as the segregation of expansion 1-20 characters from the rest of the game was so limiting that after an initial rush people stopped going there.  The game is best played in groups, so soloing through Going Rogue content wasn't much fun.

So, sorry City of Heroes, I think I'm finally done.  I don't have any regrets, it was great, and I'll always remember you fondly, but I doubt we'll meet again.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Blizzard on Declining Subscriptions: There's Nothing to See Here, Move Along

Apparently in the recent financial conference call in which Blizzard announced its subscriber base had decreased by 600,000 since last year Blizzard president Mike Morhaime had the following to say:
"We knew that this year was going to be a year where we faced new competitors; this isn't the first time, though, that we've had strong competitors enter the MMO market. What we have seen in the past is we tend to see our players leave for some period of time, try out the new MMOs, and then a good percentage of them historically have come back to World of Warcraft. So far, I haven't seen anything to indicate this will be different."
I have to disagree.  Blizzard has never faced competitors as strong as it will over the next two years. Previous competition has consisted of things like Warhammer Online and Aion, which simply weren't in the same class as WoW.  If you compared the fundamentals of Warhammer to the fundamentals of WoW, WAR simply came up short, and as a WoW player you'd be hard pressed to say "well, this game is suckier than WoW but has nice PvP, so I think I'll ditch WoW forever and stay with this."  WAR did PvP well, but that was it.  Aion was pretty, but grindy and not well rounded.  Lord of the Rings Online was beautiful, but slow and low magic. All these games offered something different from WoW, but they couldn't really compete with WoW on it's own merits.

That's changing.  I think Rift has demonstrated that it can stand toe-to-toe with WoW on features, gameplay, and quality, and surpasses it on graphics (subjective of course) and developer interaction/content additions.  The things that WoW has are an installed playerbase with years of investment in their characters.  That's a very strong tool of retention, but WoW players are running out of things to do with those characters much faster than Blizzard is creating content for them.  As time goes on more and more WoW players are going to realize that rather than level yet another alt, they could level a new character in an entirely new game and get a new experience.  Many of those players will return to WoW for the next expansion, but some of them won't.  Over time, WoW will continue to lose players this way and gradually fade into obsolescence.

Rift alone won't have that much of an impact, but WoW isn't facing just Rift.  Both Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2 are coming.  Both are high profile, big budget titles by proven developers.  Both are generating a lot of hype and interest from MMO players, including bored WoW players.  Of course, people said the same things about WAR and we know how that turned out, but I don't think we're going to see WAR-style over promising and under delivering in this generation of AAA titles.

Is WoW doomed, is it going to be "killed" by these games?  No, of course not.  Even if the slip in subscriber numbers right after the release of a major expansion is a sign of things to come WoW is going to be around for years.  Due to the slow churn of players I'd be surprised to see WoW drop below 10 million subs for a few years yet, and it's decline might take a decade.  However, I think we've seen the beginning of the end of WoW's total market dominance.  Unless they pull off something utterly fantastic with their next expansion and get it out sooner than 19 months from now I think many WoW players have passed the breaking point and are going to move on to newer (and greener) pastures.  Just how much boredom does Blizzard think people will pay for?

Rift Patch 1.2

Patch 1.2 arrived today bringing with it quite a few goodies.  First off I have to say I'm pleased with the pace at which Trion is adding content to their game.  They only have a fraction of the resources available to Blizzard yet put out quality updates 3-4 times faster.  If they can keep it up they'll easily stay ahead of my rather slow pace of content consumption, something Blizzard was sadly never able to do.  Even after taking a break from WoW for over a year after the release of Wrath I "finished" the expansion before Cataclysm released.  Twice.  I'm getting distracted though, back to patch 1.2.

The main features I'm interested in from this patch are the new looking for group tool and the crafting rifts.  I'll my characters craft, so the crafting rifts sound very useful.  Hopefully I'll have a chance to check one out tonight. We'll see.  The looking for group tool also sounds promising, I especially like that it's not cross-server like WoW's.  Yes, that does suggest that queue times will be longer, but roles are so easy to fill in Rift that I won't be too shocked if they're relatively quick.  When forming a group I've most commonly had to wait on filling up all 3 DPS slots rather than the single tank or healer.  When almost anyone can tank or heal it's much easier to fill that role.  I dislike that you get teleported to the dungeon just like WoW, but then that already happens as soon as any group member enters so I suppose it's not really anything new.

I haven't tried it yet, as my workday isn't over, but I hope to see the new features tonight and have a more defined opinion tomorrow.

World of Tanks - Upgrades

Although I'm still hesitant to call World of Tanks an MMORPG, it does have one aspect that is clearly borrowed from the genre - multifaceted advancement.  You improve in the game through your personal skills as a player, by purchasing better tanks, by researching upgrades for those tanks, and by increasing the skill levels and special skills of your crew.

My Newest Toy (Historical Reference)
Each aspect of development has a distinct effect on your efficacy on the battlefied, from the obvious (switching to a heavy tank from a medium tank) to the subtle (increasing your gunner's skill from 50% to 60%), but nothing seems to be as game changing as the upgrades you can research for each individual vehicle.  Four times now I have gone from despising a tank to loving it while moving from a stock build to an upgraded one.  The most recent example is my latest acquisition, the M7 Medium Tank.

The stock build of this tank is terrible.  It looks odd and is armed with a pitiful pop-gun that can barely penetrate the rear armor of most other tanks in its tier.  Sitting behind a tier 4 medium tank, shooting it's weakest armor and having the opponent almost completely ignore you is fairly demoralizing.  The fact that the M7 is a tier 5 medium tank just makes it worse.  This was compounded by the fact that I suffered loss after loss and so failed to gain enough xp to upgrade much of anything.  Eventually though, I had a few lucky breaks and made enough xp to upgrade the suspension, put on a new turret, and replace the gun.  I ended up with enough left over to upgrade the engine too.  My first match in the upgraded version and the battle was a win, I had two kills, and didn't even get my paint scratched.  Suddenly I like this tank after all.

That experience is hardly unique either.  I had the same thing happen with the M3 Medium Tank which went from nearly useless as a stock build to the only vehicle I've gotten the Top Gun award with once it had a howitzer on it.  The M5 Stuart had a similar experience.  Same with the Panzer III.  This is not a bad thing overall, as it makes developing many of the tanks very fun (in contrast, a stock T1 Heavy barely seems different from a fully upgraded one) but really takes some getting used to.  When you've spent days earning xp and saving credits to purchase the next tank up from your current choice you kind of expect an upgrade, yet in many cases your new tank will be inferior to the old one (in performance if not raw stats) until you upgrade the darn thing.

It keeps me playing though, as upgrading the tank makes gameplay more enjoyable, which in turn makes upgrading the tank easier, and so on.  I have a couple of tanks I plan to just sit on even though they're elite (fully upgraded) because playing them is fun even when I have nothing left to gain.  That, to me, is the sign of a good design and for all it's flaws World of Tanks is proving itself to be a game designed around fun.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Guild Wars to Guild Wars 2 - You Can Take It With You

My Rewards vs. Experience post got several comments, one of which was essentially "everything you get in a game is transient because you can't take it with you when you quit."  This prompted a friend of mine to write me an e-mail and pose the question "what if you could take it with you?"

That's a good question.  Right now, as far as I know, there are no MMOs where success in one game will give you any sort of advantage in another game, even a sequel by the same company.  You don't get any advantages in EQ2 for having a full set of raid gear in EQ (which in many ways might account for the relative failure of EQ2 compared to EQ, but that's another post entirely).  MMO companies have shied away from giving rewards in new games based on gear collected in previous games.  They almost did it in EQ2 with the heritage items, but changed course and made them quests available to all instead.  It seems reasonable, since allowing rewards to carry over gives an unfair advantage in the new game to those that played the old game compared to those who never played the old game.

Except Guild Wars is doing just that for Guild Wars 2 with the Hall of Monuments.  While Guild Wars isn't a gear based game and so there's no real gear to transfer over, your new characters in Guild Wars 2 can earn a variety of rewards (including gear) by completing certain goals in Guild Wars.  A Guild Wars completionist will have a host of rewards waiting for them if they make a Guild Wars 2 character, and it's hard to argue they won't have an advantage over someone who never played Guild Wars since many of the rewards are items.

Regardless of whether it's a good idea or not, it has to be noted that in essence you can "take it with you" to Guild Wars 2, and the release of the Guild Wars Hall of Monuments resulted in a flurry of increased activity in Guild Wars.  People have been hitting the game like never before, trying to fill up their Hall of Monuments before Guild Wars 2 releases.  It's also strange to think of the meta-gaming involved here, it seems entirely possible that people will be playing GW after the Guild Wars 2 release in order to earn rewards in GW2.

One has to wonder at the (rather horrific) monetary possibilities behind this sort of thing.  Imagine if EQ2 players COULD get rewards by playing EQ, and suddenly you had people playing both games, and raiding in EQ to equip their EQ2 characters.  Somehow I won't be terribly surprised if Blizzard (the kings of squeezing money from customers) create some sort of link between WoW and Titan, even if it's nothing more than titles or pets or vanity mounts.  Imagine if each expansion of WoW had new bonuses that could be earned for Titan.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Optimization -- I Want Some of This Action Too!

The current topic sweeping MMO blogs at the moment seems to be about optimization of characters and whether that's a good or bad thing.  I might as well give my two cents on the topic (and based on my Rewards vs Experience post my opinion will likely come as a shock to no one).

I do think optimization has a place in MMOs, or indeed in any game.  It's simple human nature to try and find the best way to do something.  Whether it's researching your route to work, budgeting for groceries, or planning out your vacation, most people try to get the best outcome for the least effort in the shortest amount of time.  It's simple evolution -- our ancestors that didn't optimize their hunter/gatherer lifestyle either starved or got eaten by sabretooth tigers.  Optimization is a survival trait.  So it's hardly surprising that we attempt to optimize in games, and feel rewarded by successfully doing so.

The issue arises when optimization in games is done purely for performance, not fun, and at the behest of others rather than being self-driven.  I had a ranger/marksman build in Rift.  It was quite effective with easy damage and good survivability with the pets.  It was also the vanilla pudding of builds, there just wasn't much to it to make it interesting.  Sure, vanilla pudding is better than nothing, but I'd rather have chocolate.  Or maybe ice cream.  I don't care if it turns out ranger/marksman is the optimal rogue dps build, I'm optimizing my characters for fun, not to top a damage meter. Effectiveness is a concern of course, but as long as I can get the job done and have fun, I don't care if my character's performance is optimal.  I like seeing big numbers pop up on the screen as much as the next guy, but I'm not going follow someone else's instructions to eke out an additional 5% dps at the cost of my fun.

I think one of the issues with this topic is that people aren't distinguishing between "optimal" and "effective".  Your character can be effective without being optimal, and just because your character isn't using the optimal build doesn't mean they're broken.  It should also be mentioned that a skilled player with a sub-optimal build will likely perform better than an unskilled player with an optimal build.  A character should be effective enough to contribute to a group, but considering anything less than perfection worthless is pretty myopic.  Sadly MMOs seem to have created a gaming culture that doesn't try to help people who are actually ineffective, but instead chides anyone who isn't optimal as if they were useless.

This isn't entirely the players' fault.  The requirements of a game's design will drive the degree to which players feel the need to optimize.  World of Warcraft in the Wrath era was quite easy, and while high end raiders might have been concerned with optimization it didn't seem like anyone else was.  I was never critiqued for my build on any of my characters, despite using builds of my own devising rather than something provided by Elitist Jerks.  Cataclysm is a whole new ball game though, and if anecdotal evidence is anything to go by I'm sure I'd be corrected on my build/gear/skills/hygiene at some point if I were to go back and try and do level 85 heroics.  Why?  Because Cataclysm is much harder, so optimization is more of an issue, and even with the limited talent choices available it's still possible to make sub-optimal builds in WoW.  WoW also leaves your character completely exposed to everyone around you, letting them instantly assess your worthiness based on talent/gear/gearscore/achievements/sword girth.  In a situation like that being judged (and found wanting) by your fellow players is all but inevitable . . . unless you go find the current optimal build on the web and use that.

Ideally characters would be designed such that optimization could follow many paths, and as long as your build was sensible it would be just as effective as any other build.  In reality, creating characters in such a way would require sucking most of the life out of them such that build choices had little meaning.  That would keep different builds balanced but not be very interesting.  Thus character builds in MMOs will inevitably have choices that based on the numbers lead to the best possible outcome for that character.  That's fine, there's nothing wrong with there being a "best" build.  The problem is when game design forces you to use that best build just to be effective, or fellow gamers insist on you using that best build in order to play at all (whether it's actually necessary or not).

I like optimizing my characters.  I'm a min/maxer at heart from my tabletop gaming days.  I used to make the most obscenely overpowered mechs in Battletech.  But there needs to be more to optimization than statistics, and optimization needs to come from the player's own desire to improve rather than an external force requiring they meet some sort of statistical requirement.  There's nothing wrong with going to Elitist Jerks and getting the best build for your character if that's how you want to play, but there is something wrong with requiring everyone else to go to Elitist Jerks and get the best build for their characters too.

I like how Spinks put it best:
I still think there is a lot of fun to be had from tweaking characters and character progression, but the most fun gameplay is that which happens as part of the actual session, not outside the game itself.
I haven't looked at a single website for advice on build design in Rift, and I have no desire to.  I've achieved a level of optimization that makes me happy and I'm done worrying about my build.  I'm too busy actually playing the game to worry about whether I'm doing it in the most efficient manner possible.

World of Tanks - Some Days You're the Dog, Some Days You're the Bone

World of Tanks is still drawing me in on a daily basis.  I don't play it for very long, typically 30 minutes or so, but the design of the game is such that that works out just fine.  I do sometimes have a little difficulty dragging myself away (just one more match!) but for the most part it's great bite-sized gaming.  The fact that I've always had a certain fondness for WWII tanks and aircraft hasn't hurt either.  I'd love to see them expand the scope of the game, but that's another post.

One of the aspects of WoT that keeps it engaging is how varied the experience is on a daily basis.  I suppose it's no different than any game with PvP, but the variance seems much higher than, for example, warfronts in Rift.  Luck of the draw plays a big part, in that the enemies vehicle types arrayed against you have a huge impact on the outcome of the match.  The skill of your opponents has a big impact, as does how aggressively the two teams play.  Finally, the tier distribution has a huge impact as well.

I've had battles where I was top of the list (T1 heavy tank) with no heavies on the enemy team, no artillery, and only one or two tank destroyers, and pretty much mopped the place up.  I've had battles where I was top of the list (T1 heavy tank) with no heavies on the enemy team, but lots of artillery and tank destroyers and been pinned down within the first 2 minutes of the battle and gutted by concentrated fire.  I've had battles where I was middle of the list yet ended the match still alive with 3 kills and the rest of my team wiped out and our base captured.  I've had battles where my M5 Stuart (light tank) raced up a road just to get one-shotted by a hidden enemy tank destroyer in the first 30 seconds of a match.  I've had battles where my M2 Medium tank rolled around the map popping enemy artillery like grapes (gotta love a 75mm howitzer on a tier 3 tank).

World of Tanks seems to be a roller coaster of highs and lows.  Some battles are really great, some are really terrible.  I hardly ever see anything in the middle, so much so that finishing a battle alive but with no kills is almost exciting.  Despite the fact that WoT's content is really very limited, the highs keep me coming back for one more match, and the lows keep it from getting monotonous.  Although I find the unbalanced design of the matchmaking system frustrating at times, I have to admit it keeps the game interesting.

Now if they could just add some sort of persistent campaign with sides divided up by nationality . . .

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rewards vs Experience

The quiet closure of the recent Rift River of Souls event (here are some goodies, please stop yelling at us!) got me to thinking.  By any measure the goody bag Trion handed to every single character that existed at the time of the event was quite generous, containing a 20 slot bag, 250 shards, a quest item for a blue quality level-appropriate weapon, and a couple of achievement tokens.  I can think of plenty of companies that would have told the playerbase to suck it (and indeed some of them actually have) and move on.  So Trion should be lauded for actually trying to placate their players, and by doing so in a way that had a clear benefit for characters receiving the gift bag.

Nevertheless . . . I wasn't very happy with how it all turned out.  I had to think about it for a while, but eventually I figured out the source of my unhappiness (and it also explains why I lost interest in World of Warcraft).  Earlier in my MMO gaming experience I was very interested in and excited by the rewards I could earn for a character by doing certain (often repetitive) in-game tasks.  I did heroics for ages in The Burning Crusade expansion, and even a little bit of raiding and arenas.  Did I do the arenas because they were fun?  No, I did them for the rewards.  After earning epic flight form on my Druid (another reward) I was burned out and quit the game.  I came back for Wrath of the Lich King but was quickly disgusted that everything I earned in the previous expansion (even my epic flight!) was rendered worthless upon stepping into Northrend, and quit at level 72.  I came back again about a year later and quickly leveled two characters to 80 and started the heroic grind.  I eventually had my Paladin and Druid decked out in heroic dungeon token epics and (with nothing really left to do) took a break while waiting for Cataclysm.  Cataclysm arrived, did another gear reset, and after a couple of days on the leveling/gear treadmill I decided I really was done and quit again.  I haven't been back since.  I know I will someday, but not any time soon.

Why?  Because I'm no longer interested in the pixel rewards my characters can earn.  WoW has conditioned me to accept that they're transient and entirely pointless.  The only thing of value to be gained from MMOs is the experience of playing the game itself.  So in Rift I find myself doing dungeons once and not going back, not because I didn't like them, but because I'm not interested in grinding for loot, I just want to experience the content.  I jump around from quests to PvP to rifts to dungeons and back again.  It's not efficient, I won't get the best rewards.  I don't care though, I'm just having FUN playing a game.  Go figure.  That doesn't mean I'm immune to the lure of item rewards, I still fall for them now and then and waste time obsessing over trying to get this or that new piece of gear.  A decade of MMO gaming has ground the need to do that in too deeply to be rid of it fully, but for the most part I'm doing things because I want to, irrespective of any item reward at the end.

How is this relevant?  Trion's compensation to players who missed the bungled world event was an item reward.  Now I have the item reward without the experience that lead to it, and it's the experience that I actually wanted, not the reward.  I wanted to participate in the event and see how things turned out, not get "phat lewt".  If they re-ran phase 2 and 3 of the event with no chance at any rewards whatsoever I'd still participate.  I would also happily run raids and difficult dungeons with no chance of loot just for the chance to see them.  Would I run them over and over?  Of course not, I just want to see the content and once is enough unless I really liked it.  I've reached the point in MMO gaming where I need to take a step back and just enjoy the game and call it quits when I've seen all the content I can hope to see.  Getting on the reward treadmill is just going to leave me burned out and uninterested in the game, and eventually the genre as a whole.  So Trion's compensation didn't really give me anything I wanted, though I'm still glad they made the effort to do something.