Category Archives: Game Design

QOTD: MMOs are like the Plague

“There are many good reasons most games studios don’t attempt an MMO, and why all of the advice to indies is to avoid it like the plague. Basically? Because it’s the plague.

An MMO is the most expensive and complex design choice you can possibly make. In some ways it makes the 64bit problem look like a school project. Moving from single-player to multi-player adds complexity. Moving to large numbers of players who expect to be able to interact with each other en masse, chat, trade, work together, work against each other, connect any time of the day or night, never lose any saved data, never have their accounts hacked, never lose out to a cheater or a scammer, and never be abused in chat by a troll… well, it’s games development in “Extreme difficulty” mode. “MMO” also makes people think of complex character sheets, and massive, massive, massive replayability.” [James Hicks]

Yesterday, the folks over at Massively OP featured a lengthy commentary by Ascent’s lead developer James Hicks on the kerfuffle around Star Citizen. It’s an insightful read about all the great risks and challenges that come with such massive, crowd-funded projects and naturally, his above statement about the MMO genre as a whole stood out to me and bears repeating. We are so used to our AAA-MMO gold standard and so very demanding, it’s easy to forget what a remarkable feat every running MMO(RPG) is to begin with. Developing massively multiplayer online worlds is diving into a bottomless well or as Hicks called it, the plague – one we get to enjoy without all the peril until no one’s left who would lead us there.

darkest dungeon artwork

darkest dungeon artwork

You lost me at [Reasons]!


And the answer is NoooOOOOoooope!

Like most players there’s game genres I like more or less depending on mood and a fair few I won’t play at all. For me personally, RTS or stuff like train simulators definitely belong to that last category. I detest micro-management in games and sims better be exciting and set in some fantasy world or I won’t touch them with a pitchfork.

Genres to avoid aside, there’s features within my more prized categories that will instantly make me go “Eww” and 99 out of a 100 times that will be the end of our fleeting relationship. They’re the fly in an otherwise tasty soup, it really doesn’t matter if it’s a great looking RPG or adventure game or open world MMO – some features are make or break, au revoir mon ami! So of course here’s a quick list of my top five intolerable game features as of today:

  • Isometry; I can’t play isometric games. There’s a ton of great looking and no doubt fun online coop games that OH NOES happen to be isometric. I can’t stand it, it’s about the most unimmersive gameplay experience I can imagine. Also, many RTS are isometric, eww!
  • Round-based; I spent over a decade playing round-based JRPGs and am simply over this slow and formulaic type of combat. Give me hack’n slay any day of the week! Next!
  • Roguelike/permadeath; Who has time to lose their progress over and over? What is this, a real-life sim? Permadeath games are fun for about 2.5 seconds and then it all feels like the greatest waste of time ever. I don’t think sooooo.
  • Jumping Puzzles; Oh man, the pain…the cringe that shoots through my body whenever MMO devs talk about adding more jumping puzzles to their game as if that was somehow a great thing. Jumping puzzles will make me swear off a title quicker than tankinis – if I want to jump around like an obsessed monkey am gonna play PLATFORMERS, thank you!
  • Facebook; I don’t have a facebook account and never will. Many mobile games especially require players to log in via facebook or acquire special items exclusively via the devil. Suffice to say, they can burn in hell without me.

I realize this is a beautiful collection of features that should be buried deep, deep in the underbelly of game design never to see the light of day again. Of course, it’s all subjectivebla and we’re bound to disagree and have wonderful arguments about who’s right or wrong! So, why not share some of your personal no-gos in gaming with the rest of the world? I’m sure someone out there is playing a roundbased, isometric RTS with permadeath as we speak, yikes!

What makes me happy in MMOs [#Blaugust 15]

Gracie has a topic up on ingame happiness for this rainy Blaugust Saturday (rainy for me anyway) and I decided to follow her example. On our blogs we often talk about our gripes with games or how MMOs have changed for the worse over time, yet clearly there must be things that still make us very happy or we wouldn’t be playing them.

I still feel that MMORPGs are the greatest genre there is. I didn’t expect too much of 2015 game-wise but in many ways, it was a much better year for MMOs than many of us anticipated. There were the GW2 and FFXIV expansions for one thing, Wildstar is going f2p any time now and introducing some new features and I’m also hearing good things about Project Gorgon from various bloggers. For now, I am rather content. As for the specific things that make me happy in MMOs, these are just the first ten that popped into my head:

  • Random kindnesses by strangers while soloing out in the field or running dungeons. Meeting players that will help you out when they don’t have to or go the extra mile just for you, without any notion of wasting their own time.
  • Laughs in guild chat and getting to know new people across the world with whom I can have so much in common.
  • Spotting the little things; fireflies roaming in dark corners when all other lights have gone out. The first sunrays creeping over the distant horizons. Windmills creaking.
  • Getting my character to a stage where I feel competent and look crazy good in my gear.
  • Unexpected NPC interactions that make the world come alive for a moment. Companion pets doing the wrong thing at the exact right moment.
  • Heavy rain soaking my clothes. My cloak fluttering in the wind.
  • The sound of snow under my boots as I cross a white snowy field. The way it sounds different from a cobblestone street or a wooden bridge.
  • My own little space, a room in a guild house or a fully decorated plot that is as unique as the next person’s.
  • Getting that mob down against all odds. Not giving up when all seems lost and somehow prevailing.
  • Idling in the city and seeing everyone around me starting to dance because somebody must have started.

There’s so many great things about MMOs: their scale, their simulation, their longevity, their interactivity and social aspects. Most of all however, my magical moments lie in the unexpected. That’s when the game seemingly transcends the boundaries of its script and I feel as if the world was truly unique and live, just for me. MMOs leave room for that sort of thing when most games do not – they leave room for many individual experiences influenced by countless random factors. So I guess you could say I am most happy in MMOs when the game actually stops feeling like a game.

WoW Legion: Content Patches over Expansions any Day! [#Blaugust 8]

In January 2007 millions of World of Warcraft players turned their gaze towards the Blasted Lands: after two years of living in vanilla Azeroth, the Dark Portal was about to open. After too many runs through Molten Core, Blackwing Lair and Ahn’quiraj, it was finally time for the Burning Crusade – also known as “back when WoW was cool”.

According to the timeline on WoW wiki, the wait time between a freshly launched installment and the announcement of the next one, consistently lies around 10 months on average (TBC being the freak) due to winter launches and Blizzcon happening in fall every year –

  • Vanilla WoW, November 2004; October 2005 TBC announcement
  • TBC launch, January 2007; August 2007 WotLK announcement
  • WotLK launch, November 2008; August 2009 Cataclysm announcement
  • Cataclysm launch, December 2010; October 2011 Pandaria announcement
  • Pandaria launch, September 2012; November 2013 WoD announcement
  • WoD launch, November 2014; August 2015 Legion announcement

The average lifespan of a WoW expansion is around 20 months. Only vanilla WoW and WotLK made the playerbase wait for longer than that. Looking back, I am shocked how soon into the glorious TBC Blizzard already announced WotLK.

Considering Blizzard have been running like clockwork for 10 years, my launch date speculation for Legion is September 2016. Given that they’re down to 5.6 subscribers as of now, I wonder what else they’ll come up with to span the second half of Draenor. Expansion hype or not, it won’t keep more and more players from unsubscribing until the next expansion is actually here. Poor guilds.


Oh and I still don’t like expansions

In 2011 I wrote a lengthy rant (with very srs charts!) on why I dislike expansions in MMOs. While GW2 or FFXIV have made some progress on that front in the past few years, it seems no AAA-title can withstand them forever. WoW has always been notorious for its extreme play-cycles, with mad content rushes after a patch and profound pre-drop/-expansion malady that has players methodically unsubscribing. This vexed me a great deal as raider and guild organizer in the past, because it became increasingly difficult to keep a schedule going during the second half of an expansion.

“I want to feel part of the world I play in. I want to be included in a continuous and ever growing story. I want change happening all the time, not every 1-2 years in traumatic leaps. I want stable and lasting fun, not a curve that goes from player fatigue and long wait times to over-excitement, before tumbling back down into the valley of tears. I don’t want to regularly un-subscribe from the MMO I am playing because it’s delivering content in situational peaks.” (Syl)

Besides impacting negatively on social stability, WoW expansions have always had more negative side effects. They affected the game’s economy, rendered our gear and trophies obsolete (green is the new purple! even for legendaries) and deprecated a major part of the previous world and content. That last one is a particularly sore point for players like me.

One the other hand, regular and smaller content patches don’t exhaust their audience and don’t reset their status quo in the world over night. They don’t hit guilds with simultaneous player exodus over and over. And there’s also less pressure and therefore less potential disappointment riding on patches. Didn’t like a particular chapter or felt bored with it? Well, the next one isn’t far off!

So really, what can expansions do for MMOs that a patch cannot? Okay – there are a few things, in fact Spinks (who is dearly missed!) has written about the differences between expansions and patches five years ago on her blog. And I agree with her: expansions have a more fundamental power to reset/expand a world or introduce a new one. They’re a marketing tool for bringing players back and maybe recruiting a few new ones. The extra cash from selling copies and CEs might make up for 40% of your subscriber-base leaving several months before each time, I don’t know.

I can’t help but feel these apparent benefits aren’t what they seem at first glance; not if expansions basically act as a “correction” of your own business strategy. If they bring back players you lost along the way due to how you’re handling content in the game, that is not a very good argument pro expansions, even if it does the job in that case. As for continuously introducing new worlds and abandoning old ones, what does that say about the longevity and depth of your work?

The WoW expansion model is its own enemy. Blizzard can’t turn back and change their strategy of so many years and they’ve bred their very own audience since day one, so I understand that they’re stuck with it. However, their example doesn’t do a very good job advocating for expansions in MMOs and thus I remain as ever, respectfully on the other side of that fence. You could say I am not prepared. Again.

Irresistible, futile player housing (#Blaugust 3)

Last night I finally rid myself of a 300k gil in FFXIV to acquire a private chamber in our guild house on Cactuar, mostly out of curiosity to see how SE handled the housing feature. Five hours flew by in which I found myself in a familiar building and decoration frenzy until I was pretty much “done”, browsing web databases and the auction house included. Significantly lighter in the pocket change department, I had to ask myself: what’s it all for? It is the age old question of the MMO player and the future still hasn’t arrived.

Welcome to the cosy SPA!

Welcome to the cosy SPA!

Maybe we’re asking for too much when we demand meaningful housing from MMORPGs. Building and housing simulations are an entire genre of their own and one need only look at Landmark, Minecraft or the Sims to understand the required freedom and complexity to make this activity, even as an end in itself, appeal to players longterm. The issue with building and decorating your house in an MMO is simply that “it ends” without further use or consequence but MMOs aren’t designed toward the finite. Once that item limit is reached on your plot, and FFXIV sports an underwhelming 50 items maximum, there’s only so much re-decoration you’ll be willing to do (or afford). At most, you’ll be adding the odd achievement trophy further down the line, yet the question about more meaningful and consequential player housing remains. May be that the two genres really aren’t a great fit, may be that nobody’s interested enough to allocate more resources towards figuring it out.

For what its worth, I had immense fun with my room in FFXIV while it lasted and SE’s housing isn’t even that great. Dealing with their fussy and limited tools, I missed my huge Wildstar plot with a sudden, overwhelming acuteness. And yet, as self-serving and ultimately futile as this whole activity was towards my further journey in FFXIV (if we are even allowed to question the futility of any actions in MMOs), it was engaging and made me learn a few more things about the world I hadn’t realized earlier. It was 5 hours well spent because I enjoyed it – I just wish there was a bit more to it than immediate and short-lived solo gratification.

Time vs. Money in MMOs and Arbitrary Lines in the Sand

Omg I am doing it again. Stahp m….too late!

Two bloggers against whom I harbor no particular ill will, which helps when ordering and formulating thoughts, are going at it: Eri is very angry at the free-to-play model, in regards to a specific, exploitative subset of games. Tobold argues that free-to-play games aren’t in fact funded by masses of poor and gullible people, again by example of a specific subset of games (which gets another reply from Eri). They’d probably really agree on many basic principles, if they were actually talking about the same thing; there are some pretty awful mobile games out there right now and some MMOs do f2p worse than others. On the other hand, it’s probable that in games like LOTRO or Allods, dedicated longtime players spend more money overall than short visitors, especially when the shops offer power-ups for alts and endgame-relevant items. Not all F2P is created equal.

Meanwhile in comments and elsewhere, the discussion has gone completely off the rocker once players start defending their love/hate for payment models by (ab-)using the old worrysome “addiction”-card. The issue aside that we cannot exactly equate lockboxes or micro-transactions in games with casino-like gambling since psychologically this is a simplification with certain problems, I am really quite vexed that something as complex as addiction gets pulled into payment model arguments by...players . There’s already a degree of compulsive behavior being facilitated by basic, everyday MMO design without qualifying as addiction. Addiction doesn’t “just happen” because of game- or payment model design, any more than depression happens because you watched too many sad movies. Addiction to games or gambling (or anything else) shows when other risk factors (such as distraction or withdrawal coping mechanisms) are already at play – which yes, makes many activities potential escalators.

There’s a way of making statements pro/against payment models for games without dragging in the flawed narrative of those who hate online gaming in the first place –

What I would appreciate and that’s a general statement, is that players stopped drawing that arbitrary line of ‘money spent’ being worse than too much time spent on MMOs. It absolutely isn’t true – losing grip on online gaming can have the same devastating effects (and happens a lot more often I’d wager) than erm, going broke. I don’t know anyone that went broke but I do know people perpetuating an unhealthy state of mind through escapism (I also know the opposite), to a point where it ruins their social and professional lives. That’s why the whole ‘dangerous addiction’ argument within anti-f2p arguments is so disingenuous. Let’s just agree right now that to a person that is already at risk, and only then, an awful lot of things can be harmful – lest we not start sounding like those who blanket condemn all online gaming because of its dangerous social hooks and manipulative progression-based content. (In reply to Azuriel elsewhere)

So much for that. Tangentially, my own brother is the one anecdotal example I can think of in terms of financial debt because of his Ultima Online addiction 17 years ago, amassing phone bills in the thousands of Euros for my parents in that early age of dial-up modems. UO didn’t have lockboxes any more than WoW does and yet, these MMOs are fully capable of serving good or bad, depending on a person’s situation.

In conclusion, once more

It’s important to be a vigilant consumer and be critical of what you’re served. It’s equally important not to turn a blind eye to what’s already there just because you’re more familiar with it. F2P games can be insidious cash-cows; F2P games can also allow someone with a small budget to participate in social gaming activities. Subscriptions can be a great, straightforward deal for regular players; subscriptions are also known to create a sense of “obligation” that some players actively avoid because it ain’t good for them personally.

But then, I have this feeling all along that our good old (and young) blogosphere is mostly in agreement on these matters, once all that righteous rage is spent anyway.

Returning to WoW: Everything is the same, everything is different

It is a mixed bag of feelings going back to an MMO you convinced yourself never to return to for lack of better judgement. An MMO you once called home and then were absent from for three years, maybe looking for closure. When I played WoW between 2004 and 2010, I did like so many of us in our mid-twenties, with passion and zeal and an exclusive all-or-nothing attitude. All or nothing, that also means quitting when you feel things ain’t going your way any longer.

Warlords of Draenor is nothing I had planned on; that too was a mixed bag of spontaneous curiosity, lack of content in new MMOs like Wildstar and winter is coming. And I made it very clear to myself: This time around, it will be about me taking my time re-discovering Azeroth in peace. I will sub for one month and find out if I still like this, no pressure. I will enjoy running around incognito after all this time, minding my own business.

Or something.


Where do I go from here?

Everything is the same
WoD was off to a rocky start with DDoS attacks and massive server queues (how very vanilla!) making it impossible for many players to log in during the first week. After I spent launch day re-installing the game, it took another day before I managed briefly to log in for the first time in three years, finding my character standing in front of the Dark Portal, lagging horribly. After ten seconds of being unable to move like this, I got my first whisper from a very old guild mate from vanilla WoW: “SYL!”.

I disconnected right away. My game wasn’t stable and I really didn’t expect to be discovered so early into my return. But this is how it’s always been on my server – those who have been on Stormrage since 2004, the early guilds and raiders, they remember each other. And so many have come back for Draenor, it is bewildering. My friendlist shows names online I had never expected to read again. Already I find myself guilded once more in the very same raidguild I helped build in vanilla WoW, with almost its entire core and founding team back. A decade later it’s as if no time had passed at all. Sure, everyone’s gotten a bit older, some are married now and some have kids or better jobs. Everyone definitely agrees they won’t be raiding ever again but there’s much else to be enjoyed nowadays.

The player base has aged and so have Blizzard with them. Yet, on the surface everything about WoW feels and looks exactly as before. I spent my first week in Draenor getting used to and then charmed by the beauty of its dated graphics (especially in the old world) and cringing over its messy, gargantuan UI that has been so aptly compared to the old “Weasley’s house” in a conversation between Rowanblaze and Belghast. After I discovered void storage in combination with transmogging, I wasted another day on costumes until I finally felt prepared to see the world, which is why I ran straight into Elwynn Forest, love of my life. To my delight, it was not deserted and not any of the old zones I went to visit from there were either – Duskwood, Redridge, Burning Steppes, everywhere I went I saw players. After 10 years, there is still life in these old zones, I have no idea how that works.

As is tradition, I went to pay Ragnaros and Illidan my respects and announced my coming. They still dropped hunter loot mostly, so nothing has changed in that respect either. Even on the auction house, the same items that used to be expensive in vanilla are still on top of the list today (who would buy a Burning Brightwood Staff today is beyond me but I still want that blasted Greenwing Macaw!). So far, so familiar.


Draenor is beautiful.

Everything is different
In their mushy Looking for Group documentary from this Blizzcon 2014, which has played no small part in bringing more WoW veterans back to Draenor, Chris Metzen talks about how WoW really has always been about two entities – the world and the player, and he couldn’t be more correct. The successes of this MMO are as much thanks to developers trusting their instincts as to a very passionate and creative player base that has an undying love for Azeroth. This huge and rich canvas of a world with its plethora of maps and music has been such a welcoming and ever more accessible home to players of every color and creed for years.

All the while, Blizzard have continued to re-invent themselves and I believe this is the secret of WoW’s long lasting success. With every expansion, they pushed further to offer something new to more people without dismissing the hard core entirely. Comparing WoD today to when I left three years ago, I can confirm that WoW is a changed game in so many ways, trying to keep up with increased standards, never daring to rest on its laurels. This is apparent in today’s casual and solo-friendly approach to grouping, dungeons and raids for one thing, with flexraids and bronze, silver and gold heroics. It’s the democratic spread of loot and gear models, combined with all the tier look-alikes available. It’s adding small stuff like treasure hunting similar (but more involved) to Rift, jumping puzzles like in GW2, pet battles à la Pokémon and a pseudo-housing system with private nodes, the way Wildstar has them (only in WoW, the Garrison is actually a lot more useful). The talent system has been simplified to match modern MMOs with more minimal action bars and while quests and loot aren’t FFA, important quest mobs are shared nowadays.

All of these changes and additions make WoW not just one of the most approachable MMOs today but the richest in terms of content diversity. Draenor is the pinnacle of that philosophy: jump in right away as a level 90 character, learn basic skills and talents from scratch by playing through the intro scenario (which for once ain’t in a cave!). Get some money and bags to start with and oh, we also boosted your professions so you can join for all these new quests! As for the Garrison, it might be the first example of useful ‘player housing’ with meaningful choices in over a decade.

The genius of Blizzard
In a competitive industry as this, Blizzard’s achievements are really twofold:

  1. Making a niche genre more accessible and creating their own faithful player base in the process.
  2. Continuously re-inventing themselves rather than resting on the laurels of vanilla WoW.

Some will say this is the mark of smart decision making and market observation over at Blizzard. However and without denying the aforementioned, another more simple answer also lies in the Looking for Group documentary where an aging core of lead designers and developers is still creating for a game “they themselves would like to play”, more casually now than in their late twenties. More mature too, giving more thoughts to their diverse target audience than before. It’s not just the players in WoW that have grown older.


And so it’s the greatest irony of all that, while so many MMO developers raced to emulate what was essentially vanilla WoW’s successes, Blizzard themselves moved on and branched out, leaving their past to others. According to the latest news WoW is back to 10 million subscribers, something that is difficult to swallow when new and shiny titles like Wildstar are struggling to maintain an audience. But who is to compete with a ten-year old AAA-fantasy themed MMO this rich and loaded on diverse content? Comparing other titles to WoW is never fair.

To be continued
As for me and Draenor, two weeks in I admit that I am charmed once more by the world of Warcraft – more patiently this time, more laidback and happy to smell the roses on the way. There is so much to do and learn for me after three years and I am not rushed to get anywhere with anyone. Most of all, this explorer is enjoying the vistas of Draenor (and there are so many beautiful ones nowadays) and a soundtrack so reminiscent of our vanilla days. Yes, for now I believe I do like this again and that is all that matters.

QOTD: Completionism, No Thanks!

I am blessed as a player of MMOs in that I have not one tiny jot of the Completionist gene. If I’m not enjoying something I can easily stop, leave and never come back. I don’t feel any nagging pressure to finish anything in a video game. If it isn’t entertaining me it can go die in a ditch. [Bhagpuss]

I want to say amen to a sentiment expressed by Bhagpuss yesterday about his relationship with completionism in MMOs. As a fellow explorer and potterer, I have given up such past ambitions after realizing three things about my own completionism-monster back in vanilla WoW:

  • the (rat-) race never ends
  • it’s not actually enjoyable (duh)
  • this is not what I’m here for

I am not much into progressive content nowadays and yet, I am a fairly progression-minded player in the sense that repetitive tasks with foreseeable outcome bore me a great deal. There is a degree of repetition to all the games we’re playing but completionism in today’s MMOs is often defined by collectivism for collectivism’s sake (lots and lots of achievements of no further consequence) and the type of grind that solely exists as timesink and where the balance between journey and reward is broken. There’s no purpose or meaning in 100 of the same daily quests, no challenge and satisfaction in performing the same motions over and over in so many similar bossfights. The underlying narrative to many of our activities has become strangely reductive (as in stripped of all decorum) and circular:

Why do you farm 100 tokens? – To gain an achievement.
What does the achievement say? – That I should farm 100 tokens.

But this is not the time to get back into it all: the different playstyles and player focuses, intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivators, longterm vs. instant gratification, journey vs. reward, themeparks vs. sandbox worlds, the value of randomness, meaningful choices, incentives of cooperative vs. solo content and so many more topics that I’ve written articles about over the years. Instead, I am leaving you with three links, old and new, that discuss this subject in different ways:

  • On MMO Gypsy: Achievement (Hate), Exploration and Mystery

    About the ways questing and exploration have changed in MMOs over the years, why more and more rewards cannot make up for journey and how dominant achievements/achiever mindset have contributed to the current status quo.

  • Tevis Thompson’s Blog: We are Explorers

    The inspiring article for my own post and possibly the greatest and most important read on the subject of mystery and exploration in games I have ever read. Deals with the subject of how the illusion of scale and immersion in virtuality are juxtaposed to completionist mindset.

  • Recently on The man who made a game to change the world

    About Richard Bartle’s dream of virtual worlds as a safe haven, MUDs/MMOs changing society and the ways current games have failed to live up to that potential (thanks Spinks for the link via twitter!).

The true traveler doesn’t know where he’s going. Happy exploring!

[Wildstar] Unforseen Questing Highlights

In her recent blogpost on questing, Jewel (by the way now co-host of brand new MMO/gaming podcast Podtato together with Izlain!), ponders the way MMO questing has changed and developed over time, from a more forced group-centric activity to an either instanced or collective experience for soloers. It’s evident that our questing and leveling game has become a more solo-friendly affair in recent years, sometimes to the detriment of social dynamics. On the other hand, Bhagpuss speaks level-headed truth in his related comment on soloability being a popular request of many gamers ever since the dawn of the genre –

[…]Consequently we have a powerful received wisdom, promulgated by a very particular interest-group, that states that the be-all and end-all of Massively Multiple Roleplaying Games is social interaction and the true worth of those games is the friendships they foster. I don’t buy that. It doesn’t match my experience and I don’t believe it jibes with the way we’ve seen the genre develop over the last 15 or 20 years.

If solo-play is a playstyle, then soloability furthers playstyle variety and a more inclusive community from there (which of course you can totally not care for). One reason why WoW made it this big was because it embraced a much wider audience than its oldschool, hardcore predecessors. That’s right, the vanilla kids were mocked by vocal then-MMO veterans for being dirty casuals. With my 16hrs per week (net) raiding schedule, I was among the mocked which is all the more ironic seen from 2014.

It doesn’t matter what side you’re on and I certainly concur with the notion that a degree of hardship and purpose in games create cooperation by pushing our primal human buttons (for reference) – however, there are several ways to further group play in MMOs. I will always hold a torch for GW2 not trying to incentivize grouping via setup restrictions or tiresome, traditional grouping formulas. The game tore mental walls down for me when it first came out, walls that can never be reconstructed.

Incentivizing grouping is therefore a most interesting topic and preferably, developers will go for a bonus-approach rather than a malus one. This is what Wildstar is doing right now and I dare say to pretty positive effect: not only is grouping a must to gain coveted guild renown currency (few housing challenges aside that will let you collect very little renown at a time), it is a considerable boost to your experience gain while leveling. There is a clear advantage to coop play in Wildstar without crippling the casual solo player.


You have many questions!

That brings me to another point about Wildstar’s questing game that is quite enjoyable. Yes, I’m managing to have fun while leveling up despite a very straightforward, traditional approach to questing! What ever is the meaning of this?

Wildstar’s questing highlights

Even the most fervent Wildstar advocates will probably agree that questing overall is one of this new MMO’s biggest shortcomings (besides the pretty abysmal UI and menu functionalities). There is not much in terms of innovative mechanics – there’s your standard fedex and kill quests with way too many markers, your escort and timed challenges as well as the odd special mission in which you control vehicles or get to memorize a sequence of XY (for the TBC players: Ogri’la bombing quests and Simon Says are back!). So far, so blah.


If you are opting for WoW-type questing in 2014, then at least do it right! To me, traditional questing is all about the pacing and fine touches; there is potential here for designers who can keep a steady and rewarding progression going, with an engaging storyline leading from place to place in comprehensive manner and some refreshing humor peppered across. Now, Wildstar is 50% tedious kill quests, it ain’t no lie – yet, there’s also great pacing and lots of variety for everything else.

I can live with slaying another twenty Snoglugs if my EXP bar shows satisfying progress or if there’s a serious chance for shinies or some unexpected encounter, which brings me to the important point: there are some increasingly enjoyable and epic moments with a fresh spin in Wildstar’s leveling curriculum! This game is full of surprises and good laughs, so this is where I’d like to give you just two examples (spoiler warning: if you’re sensitive to quest spoilers up to level 35ish, you should probably stop reading now):

Whitevale: The Odd Squirg Hat!
At some point on your journey through the beautiful snowy lands of Whitevale, you will encounter the Squirg, weird alien race of squid-heads having Cthulhu written all over them. The Squirg questline includes a variety of activities from running over them in hovercrafts, to impersonating one and finally attempting to throw squid hats on enemy faction players (for PvP realms) or NPCs. This marks the conclusion of a pretty insane run, rewarding the player with the Odd Squirg Hat item that doesn’t only cover half a Chua’s body but…speaks to the player in literal possession! I don’t know about you – but small stuff like that goes a long way with this here MMO player.



Farside: Low gravity high!
Having left Whitevale with some fuzzy feels (two words: lopp weddings!), the next map of Farside has quickly become one of my favorite MMO zones of all time as far as gameplay and atmosphere go. That’s quite the accolade so early into the game but no less deserved. As if the whole spacesuit and moon gravity simulation-thing (yay for moon jumps!) wasn’t enough, there are meteorites showering the landscape as you travel along until at some point sooner or later, your screen will go black with a message prompt, asking you to save the moon from impending disaster. Off you go, thrown into a chance scenario with random players running a drill into a huge meteor (and killing a mini-boss), so the good NPCs of Farside can enjoy another moon day. Of course there are goodies for the winning team!

Later on, as you explore the north-eastern parts of Farside, you discover Ravenous Ravine which is where the fun really starts. Pitch black part of the map, you will navigate by the light of your torchlight, fending off some of the spookiest deep sea-style creatures in the game thus far. The analogy of low gravity vs. underwater isn’t just fitting and smart, it is by far one of the most atmospheric places I’ve traversed in any MMO. So simple, such a small thing and yet to such great effect. More of that, please?


Did you just touch me??

And there’s more, a lot more in Farside until you’ve lost your mind completely in one big acid trip with rainbows and vending machines attacking you, while your still-sane party members can’t see the mobs you’re fighting.

…I don’t know about you but to me, these are traditional quests worth having. My next 15 levels in Wildstar have a lot to live up to all of a sudden – fingers crossed!

No purpose, no nothing

No purpose, no nothing – that short but poignant conclusion to so many things, coming to me once more while writing Monday’s post and then Kadomi said it again, literally, in the comments:

I don’t enjoy not having a purpose. What good is all that freedom if it leaves me feeling empty after a while?

“Who may be allowed to linger that is fulfilled by purpose?” I’ve asked that before, in slightly different context but no less relevant to this cause. A purpose is an end (hence the double meaning) and in many ways, endings bring a certain degree of linearity or at least progression to life real and virtual. Yet, purpose is also what fulfills that life lest in not be literally point-less. There is a cosmic balance here, a trade-off and even our favorite genre in video games, MMORPGs must struggle for it – that balance between the sandbox and themepark, between too much freedom and too little, too much endgame and not enough satisfaction.


To what end?

No purpose equals nothing, in virtual worlds too.

No purpose, no point for guilds.

No purpose, no point for housing.

No purpose, no point for gear.

Take GW2’s gear grind – so futile, so unfulfilling because it is not required, does not prepare you for any kind of endgame that exists. And what is endgame, by now such an unpopular term, but not a purpose or “life after”? Take LOTRO’s homesteads – beautiful but empty, forever instanced away from the world of men, not serving any purpose really. Take any other MMO you can think of that allows you to solo self-sufficiently, obtain everything on your own and then wonder why people don’t play in guilds. Having co-founded two lasting, successful raidguilds in WoW, I am very pragmatic: guilds are common ventures first, uniting people with the same purpose for that purpose. More often than not, that purpose is what keeps the best guilds alive. So what?

I made some wonderful friendships in MMOs founded on a common goal; common goals glue people together. Maybe they are the only thing that truly does. Common goals on the horizon add purpose to our stride, infuse our dreams, inspire our achievements social or otherwise.

To clarify, that’s not to say that there’s no such thing as individual purpose defined on an individual level in every game and for virtually anything (even jumping puzzles! eww) – there absolutely is and it matters too. However, in isolation this doesn’t tend to create the same value on a cooperative level and not the same longterm appeal, either. Not in my experience anyway.

Give me purpose, give me endings

No purpose -> no point -> no end -> no meaning. If things can only have meaning if they also end, let’s have ends and lots of them. Let’s have many purposes.

MMOs and not just Landmark, need a ‘hard’ purpose for the features they implement. It sounds simple and yet it’s a glaring oversight in so many games, yes sandboxes and themeparks alike, and it always backfires in the mid- and longterm and affects the community most strongly.

Oh sure, a game’s early flame burns brightly like a bonfire in the night and by all means, warm yourself at that fire. Enjoy it while it lasts. In the long run however, you’ll want some meat on the bone to roast on that fire and sustain you. In the long run, you will need that.