Thank you all for coming today.
I know for some of you the trip was inconvenient, taking your time off from work or just coming here in your free time, so we greatly appreciate it. Well, what can I say? We are gathered today in remembrance of Rusty Hearts, a good friend to some of us, a stranger or passing acquaintance to others, but overall a game that may have passed, but certainly left a legacy that will not be forgotten.
What I know of Rusty Hearts is not extensive, by any means. I never achieved max level, nor did I play it often. However, it was a game that stayed installed on my hard drive because it was just fun. It was different. It refused to follow western tropes that felt like staples of the industry. It was a game that I played periodically, a game that, at the time, was unlike any other. In an age where ‘MMO action combat’ was a rare sight, and tab targeting and skillbars-for-miles was still the order of the day, Rusty Hearts bucked the trends.
Instead of letting the player create their own character from scratch, they had predetermined characters with different playstyles. These were Rusty Heart’s classes. Most people feel that this is a black mark, that to snub open character creation is a sin against the genre. But, to me, this was just one reason that made it stand out. We see this now in a title like Marvel Heroes, a game currently in it’s prime, hitting it’s stride, but uses pre-determined superheros. In Rusty Hearts, you wouldn’t play a melee dual-weapon class, you’d play Franz. You wouldn’t play a magic-wielding class, you’d play Angela. And you wouldn’t play a ranged dual-pistol class, you’d play Natasha. These characters weren’t just fluff, though. They were the main story. They were the characters who had a vengeance to exact against their enemy, the lord of Castle Curtis.
The story was… interesting. I wouldn’t call it a great, memorable tale, but the comic relief came fast and furious, great contrast and companion to the fast-paced battles that were found within the game’s many, many dungeons. That, and the story matched the anime-like, uber-colorful and stylized art nicely. If you think World of Warcraft is “stylized”, you ain’t seen nothin’. If anything, the style was similar to Champions Online.
The music was unlike anything I’ve heard yet in an MMO to date, too. In the game’s main city, it was a sad-but-hopeful haunting classical/jazz piano with a bit of an electric flair, to match the town’s somber mood. Inside the dungeons, and when fighting bosses, it was faster paced club music, electric guitar and violins to match the fast action combat. Really, phenomenal stuff. I highly suggest you take a listen while it still remains on Youtube.
Gameplay is where the game stood out, though, in my opinion. Sure, there wasn’t a lot of forced grouping or massive co-op gameplay that all the players today *think* they really want (but the numbers tend to prove them wrong time and again). It was a Guild Wars 1 or Star Trek Online style of lobby-based dungeon play, but it was a ton of fun. Mobs were thrown at you en masse and the short dungeons weren’t fully cleared until you beat a boss monster with harsh mechanics. The faster it was cleared, the more rewards were achieved, and rewards dropped like it was ‘National Loot Day’.
However, the grind. Oh the grind. Rusty Hearts makes most MMO’s grinds look like a walk in the park. You didn’t just run these dungeons once, you ran them about 15+ times each, quests telling you to head right back in after you just came out. That’s why I never achieved max level or made a serious play at endgame, the grind was just too much.
Rusty Hearts is succeeded, though, by a game that is still finding it’s place in the gaming world, Neverwinter. Not so much the art style or music, but in the gameplay. The characters are very stock types, the play is lobby based, albeit a little more open, but the action and bosses fought at the end of each dungeon are not exact, but reminiscent of the gameplay. An offspring, if you will. If you enjoy Neverwinter, there’s a decent chance you would’ve enjoyed Rusty Hearts.
So closing mere days before it’s third birthday, which would’ve been September 20th, with a heavy heart we say goodbye to Rusty Hearts. A game with ideas before it’s time, but holding fast to old grind tenets. A game with great style, both in art and music, and gameplay that was just plain fun.
Rusty Hearts was the game that really opened up my eyes to what could be different about MMOs, but still be fun to play. It smashed the idea that MMOs had to stay to a strict formula, that the term MMO was a lot broader than I believed it to be. It pretty much is the reason for my game-jumping. I learned from Rusty Hearts to expand my “comfort zone”, to try out and give each game it’s own fair attempt to see if I liked it or not. To not just blindly follow the crowd. You can say Rusty Hearts is then partially a reason why I started this blog, to share my thoughts that there can be good things in places you might not usually look.
Now please, for all those in attendance, there will be a repast held at the community hall down the street. All are welcome to attend.
Remember Rusty Hearts the next time you see a game and think “that’s not for me”. You never know. All you have to do is try it out. Rusty, you will be missed.
We have experienced the MMO sphere from Ultima Online (or even before) all the way up to games that haven’t even been released yet. We’ve seen payment models ranging from open to all free to play cash shops, can’t subscribe if you wanted to (Neverwinter), to a paid box plus recurring subscription and a cash shop thrown on top of it (WoW). But which is the best? I hope, in this article, to expound on the positives and negatives of each kind of payment model and then using those traits come up with a new payment model to appease everyone. Impossible? Of course it is. But why not try?
First off, lets look at the three most widely used structures of payment models: Free-To-Play with a Cash Shop, Buy to Play with a Cash Shop, and Subscription.
Free-To-Play with Cash Shop
This is the model used by games such as Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Neverwinter, Star Trek Online, and many, many others.
Where it goes right:
- The ability to draw in a very large player base.
- Ways to earn store credits through playing the game. A currency exchange, a static reward for completing larger accomplishments, etc.
- Easy to return to after an extended absence.
Where it goes wrong:
- Nickel and diming of items that would be used to show progress. Larger bag capacity, More bag slots, cosmetic changes, retrain tokens.
- Largely transient community. With no vested interest, the draw to stay with the one title isn’t that high.
- Game pushes you to use the store as that it their primary source of income.
Personally, I don’t mind games that are Free-To-Play. With some games even having a way to earn store credit by playing (STO, LotRO, NW), it turns the payment model into a game itself. However, the “payment model” game… is not that fun. I guess it would be if you are an auction-house tycoon and enjoy the manipulation of markets, but these F2P games usually put failsafes in to prevent it. Also, the earning of store credit feels like a separate game, and not part of the game itself.
The sheer number of players that Free-To-Play generates are an asset all unto themselves, though. If 80% of your income comes from 20% of your players, you’ll want to increase the base amount of players as much as possible. And then having more players around at all times gives more people to group with, more guild or fleet members, and makes a game feel “full”. Also, you’ll generally have more fun in F2P titles if you are capable of showing restraint and maturity. If you understand that you don’t need everything, that some items are just frivolous, and keep yourself from splurging, you’ll be just fine.
Buy-To-Play with Cash Shop
This is the model used for games like Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World where you pay for the game’s client and content and then have a cash shop included for more non-essentials, cosmetics and boosters.
Where it goes right:
- Has a very large playerbase
- Easy to Return to after an extended absence
- Gameplay and content is the main focus
Where it goes wrong:
- Community is not as transient as F2P, but people still take long breaks in between major content updates.
- Similar to single-player games. Once story is completed, the want to stay around reduces.
- Cash Shop still a focus in the game, though not as bad as F2P.
As elitist gamers are fond of saying, a payment wall tends to keep out the “riff-raff”. These “riff-raff” are, of course, present in every game, but having the wall throws a stigma to those that are just looking to be pains and cause trouble. This leads to friendlier communities, in a game that still has a very large playerbase. I’ve been playing a lot of GW2 and TSW lately, and both games feel ridiculously full. Players are still EVERYWHERE. Even if the majority are off fighting in the endgame, the starting levels are far from empty. In fact, a Buy-To-Play model even makes the timespan of when players join the game more spread out. It’s not all at once at launch, it’s over time as more reviews and sales causes players to jump in when it’s more convenient for them.
The cash shop, of course, is still there, and is still an eyesore, but it’s not at front-and-center. Finding the Cash Shop in The Secret World took me ages, as it’s hidden in the menu and there isn’t an on-screen big flashing button. The more hidden it is, the more gameplay doesn’t revolve around it. This is a good thing.
This is the domain of the lucky World of Warcraft, EvE Online, and upcoming titles Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar (until they maybe change their mind soon after release, that is).
Where it goes right:
- Very faithful, but smaller community with long-time, experienced players.
- All content can be earned while playing the game.
- High payment walls keep out non-serious players, and remaining players are more passionate about the game.
Where it goes wrong:
- Cash shop still exists, but not by name and only for items like server transfers, name changes, expansions, and is outside of the game’s client.
- Starting new feels like a ghost town. Players are usually clustered in the highest levels and the starting zones feel “dead”.
- Content you don’t engage in and don’t want you still end up paying for, and is usually unavoidable.
I could keep going, but it’s not all bad. For the really serious gamer, it truly creates the most even playing field there is, one of time only. A comment on a previous article posits that the distinguishing character of subscriptions is that effort = reward, and only effort. You can’t buy your way to the top, you follow the same path as everyone else. If they have a fantastic piece of armor, you can get it too with enough effort. In subscription, then, is the only true PvP found, that of social standing. Dominance is by sheer effort.
In a perfect world, yes, that would be the case. However, as long as gold sellers exist and people keep using them, the playing field will never be even. In fact, due to the pure effort = reward system, the value attained from using gold sellers is more dramatic than it would be in a F2P title. So even in these games, RMT’s still occur, whether the players and developers like it or not.
The Best Payment Model Ever!!
So, combining all of these together, what do we have?
What we want:
- Lots of players. And the more faithful and spread out, the better.
- Easy to Return after an extended absence. New games happen, and we like to play them. Breaks are inevitable.
- All Content Earned Through Gameplay
- Effort being the primary source of Reward
What do we NOT want:
- An invasive cash shop that nickel’s and dimes us.
- Transient and immature players.
So?! WHAT IS IT ALREADY?!
Looking at all of the reasons and managing the negatives, the best payment model we could have is this:
A Buy-To-Play model base, with the ability to earn all content through gameplay. A store that would have to be around, since it’s BTP, but very non-invasive and optional.
This system sounds a lot like Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World, doesn’t it? Well, I agree that their payment structure is very well done, but both can be better. If we combine them together, we may have something. How about this?
- Instead of the gold/gems exchange we have in GW2, why not have gems be a drop in the game, too. Random drops. Kill a mob, find a few gems. Complete a quest, get a few gems. In TSW, this would translate the same way, kill mobs, earn a couple points. Nothing drastic, of course, just here and there. Make it random, like a slot machine. If you play for a long time, put in the effort, they will add up.
- Have an optional subscription, like TSW, that also gives store points. Then the store won’t be invasive, it’ll be a destination for people to spend. If they want the items sooner, they can spend and get it.
- Content should be good enough to necessitate a fee. I like that GW2 is pumping out content left and right, but it feels overwhelming and insufficient at the same time. Why not release it in overall-story-progressing content packs? The whole Queen Jennah conflict with the crazy plant woman could be a featured paid top level story arc, for instance.
So what do you think? Think I’m on to something, or did I miss something entirely? Would this cause runaway inflation the likes of which has never been seen? Or will it help to be a stabilizing effect for in-game economies? Think this post is too long and want me to stop ranting?! Let me know!
And as always, thank you for reading.
Alright, MMOs. I have a small bone to pick with you. Why is it deemed absolutely necessary by the playerbase at large to have to watch videos of a dungeon or other encounter before you can attempt it? Seriously, where is the fun of pure discovery? Of being able to figure a puzzle out on your own?
I’m not a fan of strategy guides, either. If I’m going to use one, it’s only going to be after I’ve got far enough in the game to where it doesn’t make a difference and to satisfy my completionist itch. But reading it beforehand or watching all of these videos BEFORE you do an encounter? Isn’t that just plain cheating?
“Hey, look! We beat the boss by doing exactly what this video told me to do! We also beat it by using this exact skill build somebody else figured out!” … Are we just playing games for other people, now? You let somebody else do 90% of the work, and then you perform your role like an automaton. Really, there is no self-accomplishment in that. Is there no pride in figuring out a tricky puzzle yourself?
When you go to the movies, do you have to first read every spoiler about it you can? When you read a book, do you just skip right to the ending? Why does it feel like nobody likes spoilers, but everybody still wants them. How essentially having the game played for you is fun doesn’t make any sense to me.
The only points I will concede is that it saves time. Also, since probably everyone else in your group has cheated and watched every video, too, you’re at a social disadvantage and will stumble over your feet while everyone else is acting like a pro, mimicking what others have done before them.
So, fine. I get it, and to not look like a fool, I’ll watch the stupid videos to appease the gaming elite. It just really irks me that this laziness is the social norm and these games are designed that not following these mores hurts not just you, but your team as well.
My solution: A solo version of a dungeon. Don’t give great loot for it’s completion, or really give a huge incentive, but allow people to use it to see the story and practice the mechanics of encounters without having to resort to these out-of-game videos. Since loot is pretty much the only real reason players run dungeons to begin with, why not give an option to those who just want to see the story? So, for example, a dungeon can have a “solo” mode, a “regular” mode, and then whatever “hard” or “epic” difficulties you want after that. I’d have no problems running a dungeon on solo a few times to learn the encounters, and if I get a few random drops and some experience along the way, all the better! I could still make some character progress and be even more ready for the group encounters. But more important, I’d feel like I’d accomplished it myself, instead of just having it handed to me by a video or guide.
Have faith that your players aren’t lazy and actually enjoy a challenge, and you will see returns on it.
P.S. – To it’s credit, the only MMO this really doesn’t apply to is Dungeons and Dragons Online. They already have this system in place. I don’t know if it’s in 100% of their dungeons, though, but it’s a great idea that I feel could do the rest of the genre a big service.