Archive for the ‘Other Gaming’ Category
I am not interested in playing ANYTHING!
That’s an exaggeration, of course, but it’s not that far off. Over the past week, I’ve had some rough days at work. So, I’ve come home feeling like relaxing, I sit down at my PC, fire it up, and then I do…nothing. I check the Book of Face or Twitter or some random article that catches my attention. The last thing I’ve wanted to do is game. This is not like me, but then, we all go through these downtimes.
To be honest, I have felt a bit burned out. Take The Secret World’s augment grind as a reason for burning out, for example. Those scenarios are just brimming with decent loot and ability points, but they do get old quick. I mean, as Joel Bylos said in the latest November 2013 Game Director’s letter, Scenarios are really tuned to be an epic end game grind. I haven’t done all the full calculations yet, but my preliminary calculations are showing me that, oh dear lord, a grind is an understatement. And there is nothing wrong with that. A grind really works for MMOs. Games that theoretically never end should really never have an ending. So if you do every quest, every dungeon, and explore every corner, there should still be something there to strive for. Plus, I think people secretly really like the grind.
But not me. I’ll generally grind if there is a specific item to grind for, and then once that item is attained, I’ve always found my desire to play satiated. For example, last year I was all about playing the Winter content in Star Trek Online. I even got the big fantastic Breen ship that you acquired after running the same daily mission 25 times! And you know what I did with my new ship? Absolutely nothing. It’s still sitting there unopened in my bank. So this year, Star Trek Online brought back the Winter zone, with all kinds of fun new extra things, and my want to play it is nonexistant. Not to say it wasn’t fun last year. It was a good time. But I know I’ll put in all that effort, get the ship… and then it, too, will languish in my bank. I might log back in to check it out, check out the new Dyson Sphere, the dinosaurs with fricking laser beams, the new Worf mission, etc… just as soon as the mood strikes. … Anyday now… Whenever you’re ready mood…
So what else is there? I’ve been checking out a bit of my other purchases, like Final Fantasy VII, picked up in Steam’s latest Autumn Sale (Oh yea, I haven’t been in the mood to play anything, but yet, that hasn’t stopped me from buying more games… I really do have a problem, don’t I…). I never played it the first time around, and it’s been fun so far. Also, Humble’s Weekly Sale had a title that I couldn’t resist dropping a few bucks for: Manos: The Hands of Fate.
Yes, based on THE Manos: The Hands of Fate. If you don’t know it, the good people have given the IMDB’s rating of the movie a more than generous 1.8 out of 10. It’s not just bad, it is phenomenally bad. The movie is so bad, it TRANSCENDS it’s badness. Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fans will look back on it fondly, though. The MST3K riffing of Manos: The Hands of Fate on IMDB has an 8.8 out of 10 rating. Freakzone, the developer, decided to use the awesome source material and turn it into a pretty awesome old-school platformer. For the low price of “whatever the heck you want to give them”, it’s a decent platformer. So far, I’ve found it challenging, easy to play with a controller, and bug-free. A total win. Available for the next 4 days and change, check it out.
Also, although I’m not as prolific a reader as say, Mogsy, I have also delved back into B.J. Keeton‘s NIMBUS. Also the author of Birthright, 1st of his trilogy mixing sci-fi and fantasy elements, B.J. just released yesterday the 2nd installment, Lineage! Do me a solid and check it out. And oh, seeing as how B.J. is an avid MMO player, you might see a heavy helping of MMO influence in there, too.
Alright… enough rambling. Game on, my friends.
This post was set off by the one, the only Ravanel, on her post based on Lonegun’s post about who, and who is not, playing MMO’s correctly, based off a Massively article by Beau. Got it? Good.
Beau’s article, in a nutshell, focused on the recent decisions to offer max level characters to new players of TERA and Everquest 2, and he loves the idea. Offering them, though, sparked a bit of controversy. You see, because some gamers don’t like the fact that absolutely new players are capable of playing at the highest levels, without having to earn their scars through the leveling process. These players would not be as skilled or know their characters as well as those who have gone through from Level 1.
They are offering these free high-level characters as incentive for players who are fans of playing end-game content, without the arduous process of power-leveling. Lots of players have already taken advantage of this opportunity, and the results have been mixed. Some love it, and feel that now the entire game is accessible to them, instead of just a tiny portion, where others feel that they have been given too many options, and little direction. Getting a free high-level character is similar to eating at The Cheesecake Factory, you see. Suddenly having 20 pages of menu items is a little overwhelming.
Lonegun think’s the idea is madness. He posits that the process of leveling a character from scratch IS THE WHOLE POINT of playing MMOs. Afterall, these MMOs are created worlds with deep lore and exploration which open up as you progress through the game’s narrative. Without the leveling process, why even play MMOs?
“In my opinion people who are, “bored with the slog of leveling” are not true MMO gamers.” – Lonegun, The Rant: Leveling is a Grind
I can totally see where he is coming from. I mean, that’s why I play video games. To me, video games are an entertainment media meant to be consumed, just like books, or movies, or TV shows. We give them our time and money, and in return we are told a story. Opposed to the others, though, video games give you the opportunity to interact in the story’s world. In MMOs, the leveling process fleshes out the world, and gives a metric ton of story. After getting through the content, you feel more connected to the world and your character.
Ravanel, however, took offense to that. She, on the other hand, sees the leveling process as merely a stepping stone. She wouldn’t pass it up, herself, the first time around, but it’s not the part of the game that she enjoys the most. As like many, she feels that the endgame is the part that derives the best gaming experience.
“What I truly love about MMOs is endgame. The challenge of getting a group together and get the best out of yourself, combined with the comradeship that emerges in a group when doing things together. This is what makes me log in with enthusiasm and keeps me interested in an MMO.” – Ravalation: In Search of the True MMO Gamer
How can one argue with that? Take a look at the biggest MMOs that have been around for ages and what do you see? A solid, well defined end-game. LotRO, WoW, etc. You get to max level, you grind dungeons for gear, and then you grind raids for the best gear. It’s a template that runs deep in the MMO genre, and you can’t deny that it works as a great mechanism to keep gamers not only playing, but subscribing to play.
“I do not believe we have found the ‘true MMO gamer’ in Lonegun’s leveler, though. In fact, I do not believe either the leveler or the hardcore end gamer necessarily represents the ‘true MMO gamer’.” – Ravalation: In Search of the True MMO Gamer
I believe, though, that I have the answer, and it is much simpler than any of that. MMOs are a great boon to the video game industry. They are games where you can have character progression, player vs player combat, hard challenges, and easy grinds. Games where you can be told an amazing story and tell your own story. Games where you can corner markets, become a notorious pirate, hit the jackpot, form lasting friendships, and experience a world that never stops changing. We play MMOs for all of these reasons. In the biggest entertainment industry in the world, MMOs exemplify why we love gaming to begin with: there is something for everyone.
A True MMO Gamer: Someone who enjoys playing MMOs, no matter the reason.
It truly is that simple.
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.
Ugh. Grind. Just saying the word conjures up images of boredom, slogging through the same content over and over again, just for the same small reward. There are many different names we gamers use for grind; the gear treadmill and farming are two general ones that come to mind. But does anyone really enjoy farming, or running those same dungeons and same bosses until you’re blue in the face? Anyone?!
Actually, the answer may (or may not) surprise you. In doing research for this post, I’ve uncovered lots of research that suggests that, yes, we as humans and gamers really do love to grind.
But why do we do it? Isn’t “the grind” what we encounter on a day-to-day basis by going to work in the first place? We “grind” at our jobs, usually performing the same tasks over and over to get that paycheck. You’d think we’d be sick of it.
Maybe not. Imagine you just won a nice fat $10 million lottery. Sweet. Would you go back to work? According to a Gallup poll performed last month, 68% of people would continue to work. 68%! And a poll of 34 national lottery winners showed that 48% of winners stayed in their current job. If you take the financial stress completely off the table, half of them would return to work the next day and continue the work grind. In fact, according to that same poll, 68% of lottery winners still played the lottery on a weekly basis!
So to those who enjoy the treadmill, or enjoy the piles and piles of centaurs left in your wake, here are five reasons showing why we enjoy the grind, despite our frequent objections to it:
Grinding Levels The Playing Field
Lets face it, anyone can get to the top levels in the MMO’s that we play simply by putting in the effort to get there. Even with very little time, anyone potentially can acquire, through purchase or play, the gear necessary to hit the next level. Grinding is the key to leveling the playing field for everyone, and is the one big part of making a game “fair”. If that Giganto Sword costs 50 tokens, but you only get 1 token per hour-long run, is it worth it? Certainly not to everyone, but there will be players that will get it, because they can. But you are not excluded from getting it, too. It’s not a Superbowl ring, where ones 5’6″, 175 lb frame (for example, of course ) isn’t humanly capable of competing to get one. Anyone can work toward that Giganto Sword. The more grind a game has, arguably the more fair it is.
This would explain why you constantly see a demand for more sandbox-oriented subscription-only MMOs. In the minds of some people, the more grind a game has and the less items you can exchange for real money, the more overall “fair” the game becomes. In this scenario, though, I personally think that most people misattribute the payment model as the source of “unfair” gameplay, when really it comes down to the amount of grind.
Repetition is Relaxing
According to Everyday Health, repetition is one of the best ways to help with stress. We spend all day in stressful situations, all of our responsibilities and activities, when crammed together, can cause us to want to shout at the world. I know that’s how it is for me. Being more an introvert, even being around people for too long can trigger such stress that I just need to be alone to recharge.
Sitting back, playing a game, listening to music or podcasts, and just farming the same mobs over and over again to help progress towards that Giganto Sword is actually, in a sense, therapeutic. I’m no doctor, of course, and the method of stress relief that works for you may be different, but for me, gaming is my relaxation. Although I say I’m not a fan of grinding, maybe I secretly am a fan. It would help explain why I am drawn to MMOs over any other genre.
Cognitive Efficiency Enables a Path of Least Resistance
This is the bane of game design, and why I feel empathy toward game designers. You give too many options on how to build your character and someone will theorycraft the absolute best builds. Playing anything else, then, is sub-optimal. We, as humans, always seek the path of least resistance and so will play with the most optimal equipment and builds, and take the path that’ll lead us most quickly to our goal.
If getting that Armor of Awesomeness takes either running the same dungeon 10 times or slaughtering 10,000 Borgfish, most will pick the dungeon as it’ll take less time and effort. Taking the long way is not the most efficient, and is more the path of most resistance, but I am glad it’s still there as an option. Options are good.
The Practice from Grinding Makes Us Better Players
What better way to become better at running a tricky dungeon than to run it time and time again. We run it again as we are really looking to get the “phat lootz”, but the practice gained from doing so is a side-effect that is tangible and substantial.
I consider myself a terrible player, sometimes. I tend to shy away from group dungeons and group activities as they cause me some stress and playing games is how I reduce my stress in the first place. But there’s the rub. If I ran dungeons more, got over the dungeons learning curve, and fell into a steady routine, the stress that comes with running them in the first place would drop. It’s getting over that activation energy in the first place that is the hard part.
The Endowed Progress Effect
Finally, this point I’ve spent the most research on, but seems to be the biggest factor as to why we are addicted to the grind. In a nutshell, Endowed Progress is the idea that when people make progress towards a goal, that they will become more committed toward continued effort of achieving that goal.
If you get 15 tokens toward that Giganto Sword, the likelihood of you continuing on to finish getting the other 35 tokens towards it are more likely. If you have 3 out of 4 pieces of a set, the odds of you giving up are slim. There is usually nothing that will stop you from attaining the 4th piece.
Here is an example of Endowed Progress in action: In Study 1 of the Nunes and Dreze paper, they hand out loyalty cards to a car wash. Half of the cards (A) require 8 washes to earn a free wash, the other half (B) require 10 washes, but the first two washes have already been supplied. So, both cards need 8 washes to get the free wash, but (B) appears to have a head start. Of the 300 cards given out, 80 were redeemed. The redemption rate for those that needed 10 washes, but were endowed with 2 washes (B) was 34% over a 19% redemption for the control cards (A). Furthermore, the amount of time it took to redeem the cards was 2.9 days less, on average, for those using the endowed cards.
The more invested you are to your goals, the more likely you are to see it through.
My guess, though, is that you’re not that surprised by all of these reasons. Look at all the games we have around us today, MMO and non-MMO. Is there a single one that doesn’t have SOME form of grind associated with it? “Facebook” style games like Farmville, cell-phone games like Candy Crush are literally nothing BUT grind. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that the games are designed to be an addiction 1st and a game 2nd.
Overall, In writing this post, I’ve learned a lot about my own habits any playstyles. I, usually, am not a fan of grinding. When faced with a grind, I usually go play another game that doesn’t have one. Or so I think. Am what I really doing is just replacing one grind for another grind that I like better? A rose by any other name…
I really like the leveling in games and MMOs, I like that feeling of improvement with each session, the big improvements over the marginal ones. But a leveling grind, even if it has varied content, is still a grind.
So next time, don’t just dismiss a game you’re playing for being too “grindy”. The grind may be the reason you’re playing in the first place.
P.S. - So the Super Adventure Box in Guild Wars 2… is that really just a Skinner Box INSIDE a Skinner Box?! Woah… Skinnerception… #mindblown
“While I prepare for the usual Ysharros defense, Ocho is destroyed. Again. Seriously, Ocho? Can’t you go a day without getting blow’d up?” – Syp from Bio Break
This is quite possibly the best quote ever. And to be fair, being blow’d up is what I do best.
To all of those who haven’t seen yet, a war of epic proportions is being waged over on Bio Break, a war deciding who, truly, is the Master of Orion. And the blow by blow details is surprisingly intense. I mean, we’ve all played them, those faction, strategy based games like Civilization, Sins of a Solar Empire, Heroes of Might and Magic, etc., but Syp is showing us tangentially WHY we find these games so fascinating…
We can create our own stories.
Isn’t that a big component of why we love MMO’s as well? I mean, most of the ones we see today are heavily story based, but yet within these worlds, we create our own narratives. MMO’s without the emphasis on story, like EvE Online, do a tremendous job of creating their own intrigue. EvE‘s recent War in Fountain is one of those stories, culminating in the largest online battle between digital spaceships in history. Even some of the bigger news outlets got in on the fun. But who hasn’t had guild or server stories? I’ll tell you a quick one…
The Red Shirts raid Stormwind and hold the Deeprun Tram tunnels.
My very first World of Warcraft character (and really, my only one), was an Undead Warrior by the name of Ocholivis… hence… Ocho. Anyway, one day early on in my leveling, I joined up with a guild of fantastic people called The Red Shirts. To show our solidarity, we all wore red shirts under our red tabard. This one single thing joined us together in one of the most tightly knit guilds I’ve ever been in. In fact, I still remember the names of some of my closest guildmates, despite it being almost a decade ago. Kant, Kalli, Krem, Thrym, Grimfear, Shugorei, Aiyanna, Thax, Dimensia… the list goes on. These names still mean a lot to me. As a guild, we ran dungeons, we invaded Stormwind, we partook in the endless PvP at Southshore/Tarren Mill, and we just had fun. As Horde, we were outnumbered about 5:1 on our server, but we didn’t care. Our guild was tight. Then… we all hit level 60 around the same time, and things changed.
There was a faction of the guild that wanted to raid and wanted the so called “phat lootz”. However, those of us who didn’t have the time to keep to a set raiding schedule due to real life wanted to keep the guild a casual, fun place. This caused a schism. A subset of the guild decided to break off and form their own guild, The Yellow Jackets, and they wore yellow shirts. Gang warfare ensued. A smear campaign against The Red Shirts was waged, infighting ensued. As more Red Shirts hit level 60 and felt the raiding bug, they left to join the Yellow Jackets. Some wanted to still remain friends and periodically join forces, but not all, and there was a lot of bad blood. I stayed faithful to The Red Shirts, but eventually the guild collapsed into a former shell of itself. For a time, I stopped playing WoW. The game simply stopped being fun for me.
The neverending Tarren Mill / Southshore PvP. Yes, back in 2005, before Battlegrounds and tokens and everything, THIS is where the Warcraft PvP happened.
Since then, I’m still not the raiding type, but the “story”, our own story, that that drama created is something I’ll never forget. What Syp is creating is not the same as an MMO’s drama, but it’s a microcosm of why we love the genre, and I highly suggest you head on over to give it a read.
Among the digital, among the 1′s and 0′s, we are drawn to the humanity.
P.S. – I don’t know if the Red Shirts are still around in any capacity as I’ve stopped playing WoW and switched servers ages ago, but if any of the old Red Shirt clan someday happen upon this post, drop me a line. It’d be great to hear from you guys again.
P.P.S. – Kinda sorta maybe related, but I wanted to share this as well. It’s the song “Come to Your Senses” from the musical ‘Tick,Tick…Boom!’ by Jonathan Larson. You might remember Larson from his most popular musical ‘Rent’. Well, Larson’s first endeavor, which won him a ton of Awards but was ultimately rejected by the Orwell estate, was a musical called ‘Superbia’, based on the book ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. This was the big number of ‘Superbia’, in which a woman feels she has lost her friend, whom she communicated with remotely through her headset and video. In the song, she reveals her love to the static-filled screen. … Through technology, humanity.
I have a love/hate relationship with EA right now. On one hand, I’m a huge fan of some of their franchises like The Sims, and I’m currently enthralled with one of the best MMO’s on the market right now, The Secret World. However, EA has shown a dark side by being a main player in the Always-On feud, creating such hostility among their fans that they’ve been named the Worst Company in America 2 times running, and ruining one of my favorite franchises of all-time, the Ultima series.
So, I was shocked by the news being released today that EA has announced and will be releasing The Sims 4 come 2014. Well, not really shocked. The Sims franchise is a juggernaut and one of those Wil Wright genius games that you have to sit back and truly marvel at. So EA making another one is a no-brainer. But with how EA has been acting recently with some of its other franchises, I’m worried.
In The Sims, controlling a Sim sounds like it would be the most boring thing on the face of the planet. You control a person to live their life just like you do. Eating, sleeping, using the bathroom, going to work, dating, having a family, working on your hobbies, and building a home. And yet, it’s gameplay is some of the most captivating I’ve ever experienced. Stories about peoples Sims exploits are hugely entertaining and the game leaves room for so much creativity from building design and decoration to the ridiculous like seeing how many offspring one Sim can conceive in their lifetime.
So what will The Sims 4 be like? Right now, EA has released almost nothing about it. But I am hoping and wishing and praying that EA has learned something from their mis-handling of SimCity.
…And there is hope. According to the official release by EA, The Sims 4 will be a single-player off-line game:
“The Sims 4 celebrates the heart and soul of the Sims themselves, giving players a deeper connection with the most expressive, surprising and charming Sims ever in this single-player offline experience.”
Thank you! They can be taught! If the Sims 4 ended up demanding we need to always be online, or some other such ridiculous hoop to jump through, I can guarantee that I will not have played it. The same way I did not play SimCity, the same way I did not play Diablo 3. Adding DRM is fine, but give us players the options whether we want to be connected or not, and give us incentive to do so. Otherwise, no deal.
They do have time to change their mind, though. But with that out of the way, I’m feeling a lot better about the Sims franchise.
P.S. – Fun story. There was one time I got so mad at The Sims that I stopped playing it for a few months. It was one of the first houses and families I ever made and my Sim got a call one day, offering to adopt a baby. I was thrilled. My single-parent bachelor was given the opportunity to build a family. I received the infant and since my Sim was alone, he took some time off of his job, received a demotion, didn’t get much sleep, and essentially was a living wreck. Finally, the baby grew-up into a child! It was like a whole new game. Instead of one Sim, now there were two to control! Since I wanted to teach this new kid some responsibility, I sent him into the bathroom to replace a lightbulb. He went over, pulled out a little stool, reached up to change the lightbulb… and was immediately electrocuted and died.
I was soooooo angry that I just quit playing right there. All that time spent, and the kid electrocutes himself on the first freaking light bulb?! Seriously?!!
P.P.S. – Also, if you have any great Sims stories, I’d love to hear them.
Edit – As seen below in the comments, it was the fantastic MMOGamerChick herself that did the Sims population explosion experiment. Go check it out.
Show of hands, how many of you actually listen to the music in the games you play? Hmmm… wow, that’s more than I was expecting. If you’re not, though, you should really start as video game music is already it’s own artform with known and highly sought after composers like Jeremy Soule, main composer of the Elder Scrolls and Guild Wars series. No longer are we in the age of simple MIDI compositions, but full orchestrations take center stage. This is a good thing. A very good thing.
There is even a new podcast, recently started, called Battle Bards that showcases the music of our favorite MMOs in a roundtable discussion. The podcast is hosted by the quartet of Steph from MMO Gamer Chick, Syl from MMO Gypsy, Dodge from A Casual Stroll to Mordor, and Justin from Massively and Bio Break (and since I’m link-dropping, Tesh from TishToshTesh did the artwork). I listened to the pilot episode, and it is fantastic and I highly recommend it. Especially if you’re a music aficionado like myself.
So, in honor of the Battle Bards newly minted podcast, here are my top five favorite video game musical compositions of all time. In order of simply how awesome they are.
#5 – Guild Wars – Lakeside County – Jeremy Soule
When I first started playing Guild Wars, it was as a quick break from the game I (and everyone and their mother) was addicted to, World of Warcraft. Because of my addiction, I never gave Guild Wars a fair shake and have always been disappointed that I never really played through the storyline. From what I can see of Guild Wars 2, the story from Guild Wars 1 seems superior, so it’s even more of a shame. Anyway, after the introduction and the stroll into town, the first zone you visit is Lakeside County in Ascalon. I could listen to this music over and over again, and frequently did. The beauty of the landscape, the autumn foilage slowly falling off the trees, the picturesque sky and valleys, and then this hauntingly beautiful flowing melody that didn’t quite fill you with hope of a new adventure, but set the tone of “everything is not what it seems”. Perfect foreshadowing for the trials to come.
#4 – Lord of the Rings Online – Shire Hills 03844 – Chance Thomas(?)
When I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy back in 7th grade, it was my first real foray into medieval-style fantasy fiction and the writings of JRR Tolkien was one of the best places to start. The culture presented of the Hobbits was instantly likable as one of curiosity and adventure. Whether that adventure was a full fellowship or just an adventure down the river to visit a neighbor, Hobbits, to me, always represented movement, motion, and progress. Even shoes held them back, they were always on the move. Why do you think they needed so many meals? For being such small creatures, their metabolism was through the roof and adventure was the way to burn off all those calories. They were the beginning of something much larger than themselves (as everything was much larger than they were), and this song with its upbeat guitars, light drum, and clapping gives the feeling of that forward movement. The song revolves around a single theme, but is intertwined periodically with other melodic phrases and joined by many other lines, like all the different sights to see and friends to meet while traveling down the road.
#3 – Skyrim – Main Theme – Jeremy Soule
I won’t lie. I played the EFF out of Skyrim. I didn’t stop playing because I grew tired of the game, I stopped playing because at level 65 I RAN OUT OF STUFF TO DO! I had completed every faction’s quests, the main storyline was done, and aside from grinding every skill up to 100 I was already maxed out in my favorites. Some guard would want to tell me about an old injury or something, but really there was nothing left to do. However, the theme song makes it sound like there’s always something to do. It’s got that grand, majestic feel with the chanting and horns that makes you feel like shouting from the tops of the mountains.
It starts out like a thunderstorm, bass drums and chants, and then slowly gathers steam until you’re in the thick of it. The horns pick up the main theme, and then take it over. The vocals pick up like thrums of lightning, then crescendo like gathering bursts of wind. A slight break, with a falsetto line leads into a joining of the chorus with the horns into the heart of the piece. After a couple more crescendos, the song lightens and ends on a clear and crisp note just like the storm having finally passed. With Skyrim being a land of harsh climate, both politically and physically, creating the music around a coming storm just ties it all together nicely.
#2 – Ultima IX – Stones – David “Iolo” Watson
I know I’ve been posting a lot about Ultima lately, but what can I say, it’s a big part of my own gaming history. And if there’s one song that would represent that history, it’s Stones. Encountered in the game sometimes at random, it was always a song that made me stop in my tracks. Say what you will about Ultima IX (and it’s all justified), but this is hands down my favorite version of Stones yet. Starting with that slow lute and then being picked up by the flute, it presents a haunting melody that feels very melancholy. And then, suddenly, there’s a burst of hope. The song lightens and the skies part. However, just as quick as they part, the melancholy comes back in the final strains of the piece. It’s like saying “yes, there are times when you will be down but remember there is always a ray of hope to lift your spirits”. Even if, in the end, you’re still sad, that ray of hope has a way of melting it away if only for a small time.
#1 – Civilization IV – Baba Yetu – Christopher Tin
Trivia Time! What was the first piece of music made for a video game to ever be nominated for and win a Grammy? You’re looking at it. I can’t say enough good things about Baba Yetu that I’m not even sure where to start. The Civilization series of games is all about building an empire to stand the test of time from humble beginnings and this song shows that by just not letting up on the hope and majesty, constantly building on itself over and over again until your goosebumps find goosebumps of their own. And just when you think it can’t build any more, it smooths out and ends on the main theme that puts that extra faith in humanity’s future. Plus, the fact that the song is the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili just adds that extra spark of faith that wraps the entire thing together into just an amazing piece. Christopher Tin ended up winning a Grammy for this song, and although I don’t agree with those that pick the winners of the Grammys usually, I couldn’t help but applaud their choice here. Simply amazing.
And now, thanks to making this list, I’ll now have these songs stuck in my head for the rest of the week.
PS – There could be a lot worse songs to have stuck there…
PPS – Think I missed any, please post them in the comments!
The wheel of online Player vs Player gaming started turning when dedicated online connections started to become mainstream. Instead of huddling around your friends old basement CRT, eyes focused on your quarter of Goldeneye’s screen, you could finally start competing against random strangers without leaving your house or making sure you had enough Cheetos and Jolt to share.
Player vs Player has quickly evolved since then. Starting with quarter-screen, then to LAN connected tournaments, to college shooter-game networks, to full internet shooters. Shooter titles like the Call of Duty and Halo franchises became synonymous with Multiplayer PvP. I’m sure those games have a storyline in them somewhere… but who the heck cares about it?
I read an article not long ago (I’m sorry it’s not linked. I can’t find it again. If I do, I’ll re-link.) all about how shooters in the past were competitive because everyone started on the exact same footing. You could find weapons on the map levels, but everyone already knew those map levels, and so even the weapon spawns were all about resource control. Through this, you could know and track your enemy. And then shooters changed.
Now, I’m not a fan of playing shooters against others, with the headset and smacktalk and what-have-you, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but I hear it’s not like that anymore. Now there’s character progression. Random weapon spawns. Starting on an equal footing wasn’t rewarding to those who played more than others. They wanted tangible rewards and a system to progress through. I don’t blame them, as that’s what I go for, that sense of permanence in the games that I play, but I don’t play player vs player titles. However, if making a true competitive game is your focus, starting players at different power levels ruins the entire effect.
The wheel of online Player vs Player has stopped turning and has landed on the iteration that, I believe, will become the true standard of competitive team online player vs player: The MOBA. The popularity of League of Legends initially blew me away. How could a game, that was essentially a copy of the gameplay of Warcraft’s RTS games, become this wildly successful?
Strategy and equal footing.
Online shooters are losing these traits to the monetization of the genre, but that leaves a whole subset of gamers without a home, and MOBAs have picked up the slack. A MOBA is a “Massively Online Battle Arena”, a real-time strategy game with competitive elements, designed specifically for player vs player gaming. Just to solidify the fact that the MOBA is here to stay, two more have entered the fray today: Magicka: Wizard Wars by Paradox and Infinite Crisis by, of all companies, Turbine.
Personally, I love Magicka. It’s an action title using the top-down approach already found in MOBAs, but also uses an ingenious magic system. Spells in the game are cast using rapid-succession typing. For example: Thunderbolt: QFASA ; Tornado: DQFQQF ; Conflagrate: FQFFQFFQ ; Thunderstorm: QFQFASA where Q, F, A, S, and D all represent different elements with the spells a mixture of those elements. Magicka as a MOBA is a no-brainer and I’m glad to see Paradox make the move.
Turbine making Infinite Crisis is a little more confusing. Yes, Turbine is a subsidiary of Warner Bros and Warner owns the rights to the DC Universe. Having superheroes fight each other is also pretty standard and yet… I wonder what new things they might bring to the table. It feels like they’re jumping in while the water is still profitable, but the pool is getting really crowded.
You probably won’t be seeing me try either title anytime soon. Beating on other gamers and getting beat myself is just not how I roll. However, competitive strategy on equal footing is very respectable and I can appreciate gamers who are into that.
The smacktalk I can still do without, though.
I won’t lie, this past week I’ve been a little obsessed. Sometimes when a new game comes along that really piques my curiosity, I get like that (kinda what defines us as gamers). My recent obsession: The Cave.
The Cave was released on January 23rd, 2013 as the recent offering from Tim Schafer, Ron Gilbert, and Double Fine Productions and is fantastic. Presented in a 2D/3D platformer, the graphics are beautiful, the iconic Schafer & Gilbert branded humor throughout the game mixes puns and bad jokes as only the duo can, and the game drops significant doses of nostalgia throughout. In a surprise twist on the adventure genre, though, the game can be fully completed in about 3 hours.
The format goes a little like this: You choose 3 different characters at the start of the game and then lead them through 7 different puzzles. Every playthrough has 4 puzzles that are the same: The Introduction, the Miner, the Zoo, and the Island. On top of that, each character from the Knight to the Twins to the Time Traveler has their own individual puzzle. The purpose of each puzzle is to tell the story of how each character acquires their greatest desire and how acquiring these desires changes you. So underneath all the funny one-liners and puns are the very morbid acts you have these far-from-lovable characters commit to acquire these desires.
Launching nuclear missiles. Burning down a carnival. Poisoning your parents. Committing Stone-Age murder. Good times.
At the nominal price of $15, and a completion time of 3 hours, this game is a straight up appetizer. A delicious appetizer, but an appetizer nonetheless for the yet-to-be-officially-announced Double Fine Adventure. Having successfully completed it’s KickStarter last March, and seeing how the unofficial initial timeline was estimated at October of 2012, The Cave has only whetted my appetite for the final product. The vaulted herald of the return of the adventure genre.
I do worry, though. On my multi-playthroughs of The Cave (3 times as of this writing), the difficulty level didn’t even register on my scale. I’m not meaning this as a brag, but a true concern. If the modern version of adventure games is a game that is so easy that it’s filled with only elementary-level puzzles, maybe the adventure genre is gone for a reason. A difficulty of “Hard” is only at the will of the player to not scour the internet for a walk-through, which appear barely minutes after a game’s release. And what true value does a point-and-click adventure game have aside from it’s difficulty of puzzles? The draw of cheating is very strong if the puzzles end up being too devious. However, deviousness is a part of why I buy these games in the first place. Without the difficulty, is it even a game?
I don’t envy Gilbert, Shafer, and the entire crew at Double Fine one bit. Walking the line between what is too easy and what is so difficult that it’ll immediately send people scouring the internet for a solution is very tricky. But if there is a team that can accomplish it, it is them.
And If I may impart some advice as the casual adult gamer I am: err on the side of devious. Like The Secret World does with it’s investigative missions, expect a percentage of people to look up the puzzle answers, but know that a decent percentage of players aren’t ponying up money and expecting a walk in the park. We’re paying for a challenge. Maybe not Gabriel Knight 3 “impersonate a man without a mustache by adhering cat fur with maple syrup to your face” type challenge, but please amp it up a little more than this.
Please take your time on the Double Fine Adventure, guys and gals. Polish is good. But realize that The Cave has us now salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs for the main course.
Today has got me thinking.
With the news that Star Wars: The Old Republic is going free to play, it made me think about games and gaming value. Are the games we’re playing really worth the money we’re spending on them? Why does it matter the world to one person that a MMO has a subscription cost, but to someone else that same cost is utterly inconsequential? Multiple factors abound in this discussion, which is why it’s turned into such a polarizing topic. However, some numbers may help to explain it, at least from this gamer’s perspective.
Single Player Games
The single player genre is large and still in charge. Comparable to a summer blockbuster movie, it’s a big budget, years in the making game that starts out with a high pricetag. Generally $60. You’re $60 gets you admission to a fantastic story, awesome gameplay, and unrivaled graphics. Gametime will generally take about two weeks to a month to complete. Most gamers are left satisfied, and so these games take a long time to come down in price. I just purchased Skyrim during Steam’s Summer Sale for 50% off, a good 9 months after release. DLC now always comes later, but it’s 100% optional.
AAA MMO with Box Fee, Monthly Subscription, and Extra Cash Shop
Here is the standard we find with released MMOs today. If we say the initial box will cost about $60, then with a $15 subscription every month after, with a $30 expansion released after a year, you’re looking at figures like this: 1 month: $60, 3 months: $90, 6 months: $135, 9 months: $180, 12 months (with new expansion): $255. Throw an extra $25 for a sparkle pony from the cash shop, and you’re looking at a year’s total of $280.
When stretched out over the course of a year, it is a lot more palatable. I’m not one to be stingy. I am on a budget, and I do spend the money when I feel it’s worth it. Heck, that $15 monthly subscription fee is earned before I even fully wake up on the first workday of the month. But looking at the overall picture, $280 for a single game is a LOT to spend. As a comparison, right now on Amazon is a Playstation 3 for $250.
Free to Play MMO with a Strict Cash Shop
Here is the next standard we find in gaming today, the Free to Play MMO. Under a F2P MMO, the developers of the game are set to task. They can’t just wing out some content every year or so and think that’s it. No, they are held accountable for every item in that store. Content, potions, storage, cosmetic items, ships, weapons, it’s all in there, and it’s scrutinized heavily. Not only is it scrutinized, but it’s pushed like a bookstore’s endcap with the latest best sellers. Annoying at times but here are my personal numbers: If I’ve invested a lot of time into a game, you’ll most likely see me spend about $20 or so every 2 or 3 months. This comes out to about $100/year.
With sales, and for people that must have everything in the game with multiple alts, this can vary wildly from player to player. Nobody is the same. A great majority buy nothing, and a minority buy everything. As we are being proved time and time again, though, this is a business model that works, and is why we’re seeing Star Wars: The Old Republic turning to head down this path.
MMO with a Box Fee and a Not-So-Strict Cash Shop
My personal favorite. Also known as the Guild Wars model. You pay a large box price, about $60, and then there is a shop with fluff items. Costumes, extra storage panes, skills you can find in-game, etc. Now, I’m not commenting on Guild Wars 2 as it’s cash shop still has yet to be truly revealed. However, if it’s anything like the first Guild Wars, there is nothing to worry about, as it’s all cosmetic and fluff items. Nothing game-killing. Then, about every year, a paid expansion will come along, in the $30 range. So, in the course of a year, paying about $100 seems right.
This is very similar to my F2P spending, but the feeling is entirely different. That $100 is only for the first year, too. Every year after, it’s only the costs of expansions and cash shop fluff.
If every game went with the Box + Cash Shop model, I would be a lot happier. The box fee adds that gate that subscription MMO players crave so much to keep out the “riff-raff”, and the cash shop is there but far from being intrusive. The population is large enough to keep a stable community, and the best part: you can take a break from the game and come back later with no negative consequences.
So why did Star Wars: The Old Republic go Free To Play? Well, my guess is that they brought out the game, with a similar-feeling combat system to essentially be the next in line of the Knights of the Old Republic franchise, which is great, but players and Bioware seemed to treat it similar to a single-player game. Once one time through the story was accomplished or a month or two had passed, why keep it up? PvP? Raids? Only a small percentage of MMO players partake in them to begin with. Its nice to see them included, but it’s largely ignored. If SWtOR had the Guild Wars pricing model, it would’ve rocked the gaming world to it’s foundations. Now, though, after rounds of layoffs, Bioware and SWtOR will join the ranks of the already saturated Free To Play market.
Someday I may even play it, but most likely not.
P.S. – I’m sure you’ve noticed my lack of pictures this time around, I’ve decided to change my format to be a little more relaxed. The large pictures and huge articles was too much for me to keep up with. I found I stopped gaming, and thats the whole point! I was writing, but found little time to play. If I change to shorter (this one, actually, is not included in the shorter category) and less flashy articles, the pressure will come off and I’ll hopefully post more often. Casual Aggro, to me, is still in an experimental phase. Finding where I fit and where this fits in my time is proving to be a little tricky.
But overall, THANK YOU VERY MUCH for reading. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I truly enjoy writing it.