DK and Crow Chat About Games

I had a chance to sit down and discuss some of our recent MMO experiences with my buddy DK, as well as discussion of a few different topics.

I wanted to post this as a tease as I do want to try to bridge this into a podcast.

Take a listed below!

Shadowrun Chronicles – Hoi Chummer

I’m confident to say that Shadowrun is making quite a good reputation for itself these days on our screens. After 2013’s quality release of Harebrained Schemes’s  Shadowrun Returns,  the official launch of Cliffhanger Productions’ Shadowrun Chronicles is yet another welcome addition to my library.

Shadowrun has always been a setting that has intrigued me, but it is also one of the few classic RPG systems that I didn’t really encounter until much later in my life. The cybermancy, technology, magic, elves, trolls and dragons– it all coalesces into an awesome ball of “cool” primed for some really great stories and experiences. Continue reading Shadowrun Chronicles – Hoi Chummer

Economic Imperialism: Mods and Monies

This one is easy. Value is currently engaged in Economic Imperialism in regards to their monitization scheme for user-created mods.

What is Economic Imperialism? The definition states that this happens when conditions, “allowed economics to invade intellectual territory that was previously deemed to be outside the discipline’s realm.”

Steam

The economics of mods were measured in reputations and goodwill. Now they’re measured in dollars and cents. This isn’t a plurality of mod creators coming together and deciding to do something, this is a large 3rd party coming along and forcing an economic framework on a whole community that wasn’t involved with a cash economy (excepting the very few outliers like Gary’s Mod).

The only reason Value is monitizing mods is so they can get yet another cut of work they have nothing to do with. Sure, if mod creators want to sell that’s different; but this is a clusterfuck born of pure greed and not even on a leg to stand on since none of this was a decision made by the actual modding community.

It is bad and it is not a great precedent to set. It represents the current model whereas large companies make money by… not creating anything themselves and leeching off the work of others.

At the end of the day if mod creators had demanded such from Value, this would be different. I can’t see how any of this has anything to do with anything other than Value and Publishers getting a cut of other people’s work. If we cared about the sanctity of mod creators’ work, we’d be setting up a totally 3rd party system that isn’t designed to siphon more money to Value.

The Secret World Issue #11 Dated

Slipping past the April promise (we forgive you and expected nothing less), TSW will release the long awaited end to the first chapter of it’s story on May 6th.

CharcoalCrow-2014-12-13-11-08-57

The Orochi Tower and its eight heads will test the reserve of any who seeks to topple Lilith and reclaim Tokyo.

I’m excited! And not just for the cookies!

Are We Stuck in 2003

What if I told you that the population of players interested in MMORPGs hasn’t actually grown much since 2003? I’d have to assume that you would assume I had gone a little crazy. Of course, I’d understand. World of Warcraft sported a cool million-and-a-half subscribers off-the-bat in 2005, growing to the whopping eleven million subscriptions by the era of Wrath of the Lich King.

EverQuest_-_The_Planes_of_Power_Coverart.pngBack in 2003, both Everquest and Ultima Online hit their highest population numbers. Everquest, the runaway hit, sported around 500,000 subscribers at peak while Ultima Online boasted of their own 250,000. This is, combined, about half of the initial subscriber base for World of Warcraft.

Everquest’s record for simultaneous users was set in 2003 measuring about 120,000 concurrent players. For example, the graphical-interface MUD Gemstone IV claimed a height of 2,000-2,500 concurrent players in 1995. Currently, WoW boasts around 2-2.5 million concurrent users.

Most of these are sourced from Wikipedia or other Google results. I doubt they’re 100% accurate, but I’m less interested in hard data (when am I ever?) than in the story the trends begin tell to us. Now that story is a fleeting idea in my head: that when we think of “MMOs” we’re, maybe, thinking about a whole approach to gaming that isn’t really what it used to be, nor will it look the same in another decade.

It is no question that the “Massively Multiplayer Online” tag became the “next big thing” in the mid-00’s gaming explosion. So much so that, at least in the West, “MMO” is tacked onto everything that smells a bit like a persistent progression mechanic.

Ultima_Online_-_Age_of_Shadows_Coverart.png

And, well, in an age of immense market saturation for the “MMO” genre we still hear a vocal contingent of cries for a return to something that made older games so engrossing and encapsulating. Star Wars Galaxies has been a large target of player devotion, with even many individuals who never had a chance to experience the game clamoring for it’s features. Everquest Next, whose full fate is unknown at the moment, until recently recently had captured the hearts and dreams of almost every MMO player with their stated commitment to world and environment. A return to the Everquest of old, with the technology of today.

Even stronger evidence comes from the outstanding response to Everquest’s new progression server.

Yet we find that, in practice, the reality of “what people want” remains very different from what people vocally say they want. Not because players are lying or being disingenuous (there really is a huge cry for “classic” approaches), but because the actual population numbers for players interested in classically-grounded MMORPGs is much, much smaller than any study or analysis will show.

The numbers provided are rough and simple. This isn’t a rigorous analysis but my usual theoretical nonsense. In fact, I don’t think my premise is something most people would disagree with, just something people dislike to hear since it can force emotional responses toward concepts we think we hold true.

I very much suspect that the “MMORPG” genre isn’t as big as the big numbers make it sound. I want to be clear that this isn’t a “pissing contest” and this isn’t some game of “who can be more hardcore… grrr!” but an exploration of why self-identified MMO players seemed happier with more involvement in the past. Now that is very subjective, and I don’t mean “happier” as it has to do with smiles and puppies, but “happier” insomuch as there was a larger feeling of less churn and more investment.

So many elements have an effect on the larger picture. Free-to-play, WoW’s 11 million subscribers skewing concepts of “success”, the rise of crowdfunding. It could go on.

But in the end, if we want to talk about persistent RPG worlds in the lineage of MUDs, Meridian 59, NWN on AOL, Everquest and Ultima Online? how many games remain that adhere to that family tree? MMORPGs, at least in the beginning, were content to allow the new and exciting feature of playing with other people to lead the charge.

Now, this all veers quickly into a process of losing oneself in bright nostalgia. However, Richard Bartle suggested in 2004’s “Designing Virtual Worlds” that “Established virtual worlds have churn rates at under 5%” for which MUD2’s 4% churn is provided as an establishing footnote. For a book published in 2004, this is understood to mean primarily the later MUDs which persisted in relevance through the era of early graphic MMOs like Ultima Online and Everquest. In comparison, Everquest is claimed in the same paragraph as holding a 12.5% churn rate. Ultima Online’s churn rate is impossible to do more that guess at, though claims here would suggest 20% is in the right general ballpark. You can conclude that older games (MUDs and MUD-likes) with far higher barriers to entry (such as hourly billing and/or proprietary agreements with specific service providers) held far lower rates of churn than larger, higher-profile graphical releases. This is supported by Lord British, when speaking to Tim Fields in the 2010 book, “Mobile & Social Game Design: Monetization Methods and Mechanics” where the claim is made that players are generally willing to pay into subscription based games in the early era of graphical MMOs for about six months to a year.

High barrier to entry text-based MUDs sported low churn rates that the wider-published and comparatively lower-barrier concurrent graphical MMOs could only dream of attaining. That is, until World of Warcraft.

In late 2007, claims were made by an analyst that World of Warcraft met the old standard for virtual worlds with an extraordinary 4-5% churn rate. A claim made during a study published on RMT in 2012 marks WoW’s playerbase that never breaks and always plays WoW to around 23% of their population, with the remaining 77% of players taking breaks or churning out. This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but it does speak to a relative value for short-term churn.

southpark.jpgI can draw some basic conclusions from all this data, though I’m far from concerned about data-only-driven models (which generally lead to the elimination of the “human” aspects of datapoints which rarely jive with conclusions based on cold statistics). I can suggest that MMORPGs have various choices to make when it comes to their scope and desired level of worldbuilding.

Games which attempted to mimic the World of Warcraft model failed. I’d chalk this to the fact that many games saw systems and concepts as the real “prize” in development… and not the accidental sense of community and interpersonal relationship. At this point, in 2015, all of this seeks to act as a call-to-arms for smaller, niche MMORPGs which can support specific communities while providing individual barriers to exit. The “everyone plays WoW” days are far behind us, and the lessons from history remain: place barriers to entry; make players work for understanding. Build for the community you want, and not the community you hope to capture. It is better to hold a low churn rate for a small population than to skim through thousands of players every month.

This isn’t entirely an economic argument, simply a look at what makes a good world. Good worlds exist in small communities with low churn. The future, at least from a consumer-player perspective looks to be small and cozy.

Is MMO Community an Oxymoron?

Sometimes an idea comes into your head that makes you wince a little. But it makes sense, even if it stings a bit. For all the value that many vocal MMO players place in the concept of Community, many games we play appear to actively discourage social interaction. Mechanics like LFG tools and the adjustment of most playfields as solo difficulty help to reinforce a strong message to those who want to get ahead in game: wasting time on other players is of no value to you, and at worst it proves a hindrance or resource tax.Public events?

We’ve all seen endless attacks during public events, the dead awaiting a rare revival while everyone just keeps shooting. Or forum argument where well-meaning players implore their comrades to revive others while being shouted down quickly because the game mechanics ensure that is it better to let a dead player revive on their own during a group event than having another player pick them back up again.

And all to the backdrop of constant attention to accessibility. Playfields have become easier. World Bosses and challenging content is often either specifically roped off or has disappeared entirely. LFG tools have become the focus of a game’s grind, and that is a distinct problem. In the name of “wider access to content” we’re given these tools.

And in all honesty, “Wide access to content” isn’t very high on my list of needed features.

Continue reading Is MMO Community an Oxymoron?

Massively is Back! OP!

I’m rarely posting here these days (too much strain on my wrists when I already strain my wrists in the Repop forums) but this is special.

 

massivelyop-logo_640

MassivelyOP needs your help to get the ball rolling back toward the fantastic, top-of-the-industry coverage we love and demand! I can’t speak highly enough of the MassivelyOP crew, who bring the most professional and also most intimate approach toward our chosen timesinks.

Please check out their Kickstarter!