Archive for the ‘Other Gaming’ Category

As a Gamer, Do You Really Want Difficulty?   7 comments

Skyrim, Difficulty

This thought has come to mind a little too often for me, lately. Do we enjoy difficulty? If we claim a game we are playing to be difficult, is this a good thing, or a bad thing? On the surface, I would say my individual answer is yes. I know I personally enjoy a game that is more challenging, one that takes a bit of thought process or learned skill to get through. But are the games we are playing really difficult, do we just convince ourselves that they are, and do gamers today really want difficulty?

This topic is a lot more complex than the surface belies. As so happens, one of the myriad podcasts that I listen to, How To Murder Time (which I highly suggest you listen to as well), recently delved into the topic of difficulty, covered it pretty extensively, and led me to this post.

Super Meat Boy, Difficulty in Games

Huh? Wha?!

MMO Skill is an Illusion

What is difficulty, anyway? I think this is where the root of the issue lies. Difficulty can have a whole plethora of different meanings. The first one that jumps to mind, and the first one the podcast brings up, is “twitch” skill. It’s found in it’s purest form in games that don’t offer many character development options and has level design that keeps getting more and more challenging, like Super Meat Boy. The Super Mario games are a great example, too. Sure, Mario can get larger by ingesting fungus but overall it’s the levels that increase in difficulty. Completing the game becomes the accomplishment. It pits a specific level of skill that, if yours is too low, you’ll never beat the game.

But what game nowadays has that kind of challenge? Even FPS multiplayer shooter games like Titanfall, which just released, has leveling progression in which you gain experience to attain access to better weapons and a bigger toolset to use against your foes. If you’re then faced against a new, lower level player, sure, the lower level has a chance to use their skill to beat you, but the higher level players still have a decided edge. In this sense, are we leveling just to make content easier? Do we even want difficulty at all, if we work hard to nullify it?

You’ve seen the roosters strutting around in whatever MMO you’re playing these days. Those peacocks of the gaming world, strutting around in all the best and shiniest gear. And good for them, it shows their dedication to the game that they were able to get their hands on said loot. But was it really difficult to do so?

Guild Wars 2, Halloween, Difficulty in Games

I call this place… Pain in the Ass Tower.

In the grand scheme of things, here is the defacto MMO progression:

  • Do content, get loot, level up.
  • Use levels and loot to do higher level content, get better loot, level up.
  • Repeat until max level.
  • Continue to run content and get more loot (or just take the shortcut and buy it from other players on the auction house), which makes top level content easier.
  • Keep running content until maximum loot power is achieved and game becomes too easy.
  • Leave game out of boredom/complain about not having enough content on forums.

At that point, even the most difficult content becomes a cakewalk, but we’ve earned that through the time we put in to get that loot. Reward is good. But the entire time during this progression, the difficulty really hasn’t changed. We level up, our gear levels up, and the content matches difficulty stride for stride. It’s a linear progression. We do normal dungeons until they get too easy, then we do elite dungeons until they get too easy, then we do nightmare dungeons until we gear up to maximum and stop running them as they become too easy.

Our reward for running content is just to make content easier.

I’ve even heard content in The Elder Scrolls Online becomes trivial if you come back to it overleveled. A boss that gave you a hard time in the past suddenly is not so tough when you’re 10 levels higher, are they? The difficulty in TESO, then, just comes in rushing forward too fast. I am starting to hear more and more good things about the “exploration” aspect of TESO, but have yet to be convinced that it’s more than an illusion buried in the willing suspension (which relates to the next section).

The Walking Dead, Difficulty in Gaming

The Walking Dead isn’t a difficult game to play, it’s a difficult game to *watch*.

Puzzle Solving is Entirely Optional

But difficulty through skill is not the only level of difficulty. As Jon and Tim go on to discuss, it could also be about puzzle-solving. This is my favorite, by far, and one of the reasons I love The Secret World. As a content filler gap they recently just added four new investigation missions to the game, which I consider to be the real meat and potatoes of TSW. I’ve already completed one, and without giving away any details, I had to pull some real mind-bending out-of-game stuff to figure it out (keep a smartphone handy).

But this kind of difficulty is only challenging to the player that wants to do it in the first place. Puzzle difficulty is entirely by choice if the player wants to challenge themselves or not. I’m not one to cheat, but sites like Youtube, Dulfy.net, TSWDB.com, Star Trek Online wiki, and a plethora of others just hand out the answers to anyone willing to search. I even had a search term today that led someone to this site where they were looking for the answers to one of the new TSW missions! They just came out on Tuesday! They didn’t find it here, of course, but that they even were looking in the first place means something.

This isn’t a recent issue, though. I remember buying games at Gamestop and part of the salesperson’s spiel was to try to sell the guide to go along with it. Nothing has really changed, except it now costs a lot less effort and money to find the answers to these puzzles and quest guides.

Gabriel Knight, Difficulty in Games

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

/rant start

And find those answers gamers do in droves. So much that it’s even demanded by the community in some situations:

Oh, going into a dungeon you’ve never been in before and you haven’t researched it? What a scrub. What, do you just want to be carried by everyone else? You want to waste everyone else’s time? How lazy and selfish!

Seriously, this is why I don’t PUG or have any want to run group content at all. The communal expectation to be professionally knowledgeable about dungeons you’ve never set foot in are too high. There is no such thing as a noob the second those guides hit the internet, only “selfish” gamers.

Then it comes back to the skill to perform the guides steps, but “skill” in MMOs is really intrinsically linked to one’s Gearscore (read: random loot tables over time). That’s why the demands you see from the community for running PUGs keeps getting more and more ridiculous. These elitists don’t want a challenge! They don’t want to enjoy content with strangers! They’re lazy and want the most reward given for the least amount of effort, and so demand that from others, unceremoniously booting those who don’t live up to their demanding standards. Only those on the right side of the bell-curve may apply.

Can you tell I’m a little burnt out and jaded?

/rant end

The Secret World, Difficulty in Gaming

Still one of my favorite moments all-time from MMO gaming.

Wrangling Herds of Cats, Though

Finally, there is, arguably, the only real true form of challenge left posed by MMOs today: dealing with each other. Kind of the point of MMOs right? Playing with others? But the highest level raid content, or just content made too difficult to solo is in these games for a reason. And that is the challenge of working with and coordinating a group of people who are all only looking out for their own self interests. The content itself may not even really be that difficult (of course it’s not, “correctly” geared players mitigate the risk of failure), but organizing a group of 10-15 people to all do the same thing at the same time, with no real guarantee of reward, is impressive as hell!

The amount of time and energy driven to herding players to a single goal is outstanding. I know. Not from gaming, mind you, but I was a higher-up in a student run theatre company, and the experience is very similar. In the professional world, at least employees are being paid, but getting people to be dedicated to a common goal when it won’t put food on their table is not exactly easy. It’s why I put my time in theatre on my CV. It shows the skill of leadership when your charges are only present of their own whims. Having formal education in human psychology and group dynamics, though, doesn’t hurt.

However, I’d still caution against putting “Raid Leader” on a resume, if only because the social stigma against gamers is still heavily present in society. The skill, though, the pure skill of human wrangling, is universal and still quite impressive.

Guild Wars 2, Difficulty in Gaming

I’ve never wanted to punch a cloud in the face so much.

More Than A Struggle

Aside from having to deal with each other, we’ve gone from the days of a game’s content becoming easier with actual time, practice, and mental gymnastics, to becoming easier through in-game power ups and cheats. Do we get the same amount of accomplishment, though? I think what we gain is a lot more tangible.

We get great stories, we get great visuals, we get a sense of accomplishment not only at the end, but all the way through. We get lost in a great world. We get shared achievement. We get a thriving community that we can gladly raise our hand and claim to be a part of. We get a sense of belonging.

We get everything but difficulty.

// Ocho

 

 

Twitch Plays Pokemon: A Social Experiment   2 comments

Pokemon, Twitch Plays Pokemon

Do you want to look into the eye of madness? See the inextricable fabric of humanity’s desires mashed together into a never ending stream of consciousness? If so, then you need to head on over to Twitch and start watching Twitch Plays Pokemon right now.

Twitch Plays Pokemon is a social experiment that has absolutely fascinated me over the past couple days. In a nutshell, it’s a stream of an emulation of the Gameboy version of Pokemon Red that is being played by the entire viewing community. According to the page’s FAQ, an IRC bot translates the community’s chat into keyboard commands, and performs them in real time to the best of the emulator’s ability. Watching right now there are currently ~85000 viewers, and many of them are participating simultaneously in a glorious cacophony of text .

As my Twitter compatriot @Dunny0 so aptly pointed out, the concept of this experiment seems to be based on the infinite monkey theorum. An infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters with infinite time will eventually create the complete works of William Shakespeare… or something like that. Out of chaos, order. This seems to be rooted in a similar theory but Pokemon is, at it’s core, a very linear game. So there is a path that the community must tread in order to make progress.

Well, against all common sense and odds, progress is definitely being made.

Twitch Plays Pokemon, Pokemon

Red was trapped in the corner by the NPC girl talking about Revives for about 7 minutes. To attempt making the situation less awkward, Red ended up buying 2 Great Balls.

Even though the times I have played Pokemon I can’t get past the second or third badge without getting bored, the Twitch community has already progressed farther than I ever have and have achieved, at the time of this writing, FOUR BADGES!! FOUR!!!

What is this… I can’t even… FOUR?!!!

How” is the immediate question that comes to mind, and the only answer I can really give is “guided chaos“. Every entry, if the emulator acknowledges it, is completed. Menus open and close instantly, items are moved around at random. Pokemons have names like “CCC” (sadly, CCC, the Hitmonlee received from the Saffron City Fighting Dojo, was accidentally released into the wild the first time Red stepped up to get it out of PC storage), other names like “AAJST (????”, or my personal favorite, a Zubat named “JJSSSSS-”. Small menus, the community is just not skilled enough to navigate easily. Every time the menu opens, there’s the chance of deleting items or sending caught pokemon into the wild.

Twitch Plays Pokemon, Pokemon

But yet the game has very specific goals. Get to the next trainer, earn the next badge, get a key, an item, teach a move to a Pokemon, etc. If you know the game, then you know where and what to do next, which the community obviously does. The hard part, then, is simply in getting the community to do it. I do wonder if there will come a time when an in-game obstacle is simply insurmountable with the chaotic nature of this experiment, and what will happen then? And if not, CAN 85000 people Really beat the game, all working in a maelstrom of digital noise?

Twitch Plays Pokemon, Pokemon

Of course, aside from the anarchy there is also a “democracy” setting, where only the most popular option in a brief timespan is the accepted entry. This would help in menus and the PC where more adroit keypresses are needed, but that still ends up being a slow process. And even when democracy mode is achieved, just like our own US government, efforts are made to block all progress during the democracy until anarchy is once again established. Instead of filibusters and refusals to pass funding measures, though, the dreaded “start9″ is used, which tells the emulator to press the ‘start’ button 9 times in a row, hindering progress. As you can see from the screenshot above and the multiple people saying “democracy”, the way to get to that mode is by a majority vote from the community.

To be fair, though, as a spectator “anarchy” is a lot more entertaining to watch.

//Ocho

P.S. – If you want a recap of what is going on, or want to get caught up on what you missed, the Reddit community has a Twitch Plays Pokemon page up that gives a play-by-play in real time. I highly suggest watching that as well, as watching the actual feed can drive you mad if you watch it too long. You know the saying: “If you gaze into the Twitch Plays Pokemon, the Twitch Plays Pokemon gazes also into you.”

Comic of the Day: Grinding, in a Nutshell   2 comments

 

Grind is as grind does.

I’m a big Zach Weiner fan. I’m not sure if he’s a big gamer or not, his comics don’t usually contain references to video games, but then he posts something like this and I love his work even more.

// Ocho

P.S. – I have a lot of respect for those that can create posts every day. Belghast, Rowan, and Scary are three bloggers that come to mind that are doing just that. I have no idea how they do it, I think they have magically found more time in the day. Don’t worry, I haven’t given up, I just need to find those hours. :)

Posted February 5, 2014 by Ocho in Other Gaming

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Valve’s Steam Machines: Who Exactly Are They For?   Leave a comment

Steam Machines, Steam

Source: Steam

So far I’ve very loosely paid attention to the latest generation of console releases as a bystander. I have a Playstation 2 at home, still hooked up for some reason. I also have a Wii which sits unused, and a Netflix machine, aka the XBox 360. You see, I’m a fan of tech. More than anything, I just like giving new and revolutionary tech a try.

However, I’m far from a fanboy of any of the systems. For what I paid for them, except for the 360, they’re all collecting dust as my PC gets all the attention. This past round of new system releases was far from exciting. A new Playstation that plays new games. Okay. A new XBox with an upgraded Kinect that… does pretty much the same things as it’s predecessor. Cool, I guess. There’s really nothing new here. In both instances, to reach the same graphics capacity in my PC, all I’ll need is a small video card upgrade. The whole “next-gen” fight was nonsense, since the systems felt like a generation behind at release (although I really do like Ctrl+Alt+Del’s take on the console wars). 

Then there is Valve’s new Steam Machines. Now these I’ve been paying some attention to. I’m not necessarily going to purchase one in the first round, but they have piqued my curiosity. For all intents and purposes, a Steam Machine looks like nothing more than a PC you can connect to your TV. I’ve done this before. Back when Comcast was playing a lot nicer, I hooked up a custom PC with a few tuner cards to my TV, used Windows Media Center, and had a system you could watch TV, record shows, play movies, check your email, etc. It worked well until one of the components in the box gave out, as happens to PC’s.

So this product looks like it’s aimed right at me. Someone who uses Steam like it’s going out of style, enjoys knowing what is under the hood, tinkering with the tech he has, and sees the benefits of having a full-blown PC as an entertainment center. But am I the right audience? Is this aimed at me? And if so, why am I only half interested? Deep down, I don’t think I’m the right target market, but I’m having a hard time figuring out who is. 

Alienware, Steam Machine

Source: Engadget

The Console Crowd

Those who are solidly in the Sony or Microsoft console camps are already there, and they aren’t really moving. They have their systems, defend their purchases, and generally are already happy. What they want, it seems, more than anything else, is access to the games they are the most interested in. Some console buyers will buy every console just to play those few games that are exclusive that they must play. To them, what are Steam machines bringing? Steam is bringing a lot of new games to play, sure, but these games are far from exclusive and have already been out for a long time. If anything they’ll get to play the games that are only released on PC, which may include a lot of indie games, which Sony and Microsoft have been pursuing as well. Although I’ve heard a lot of PC users complain about console exclusives that only come to PC as a lame port much later, rarely do I hear about the opposite, of console gamers complaining about PC gamers getting everything.

The Power PC Users

So if it’s not really for the console owners, is it for current PC power-owners who want to move into the living room? Maybe. On this surface this seems like the most viable. If they use Steam, they already have a collection of games for the new system. They are more comfortable with the overall workings of PC units, knowing their strengths and weaknesses, and would enjoy playing some of their more action-style games on their much larger TV screen. But these individuals already have PCs that play all of these games. So, is the pricetag, which is looking on-par or significantly greater than consoles, worth the price of just moving from your desk to your couch? I don’t really think it is. I didn’t exactly jump to fix the home theater PC I had set up before. The cost/value calculations weren’t pushing me to do so. I just wasn’t getting enough out of it to seriously justify the price, and the Steam Machine is no exception.

The PC Future

No, I believe the Steam Machine will be for those that really want to get away from the desk and move into the living room for good. They’ll already be living a very mobile lifestyle. Using their laptop or tablet, but wanting something with a little more power, the Steam Machine will be their PC replacement. It’ll have the power to play the latest games, but the versatility so that they won’t have to bust out their laptop if they want a web browser. They won’t be the most tech savvy, but they won’t be computer illiterate, either. They also may own a console, too, and plan to use the Steam Machine to make up for the consoles limitations.

Steam Machines, if nothing else, look to be attempting to really bridge the gap between the computer desk and the living room and attempt to really start the slide of the end of the PC-era. Computer PC sales have been on the decline for a long time. The advent of tablets and better smartphones has only sped it up. I’ve always said the day the PC is dead is the day that a more portable device finally shows the same power and versatility. Valve, then, appears to be placing themselves in a position to ring the deathknell of the desktop PC. With companies like Alienware and Gigabyte in the mix of partners, and the smooth business savvy that Valve has displayed, they may be on to track to do so.

Just as Apple revolutionized the smartphone and music, Valve has already revolutionized video game sales and is looking to push the PC revolution forward even more.

// Ocho

P.S. – And boy do some of them look pretty, too.

Posted January 7, 2014 by Ocho in Other Gaming, Steam

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , ,

MANOS: The Hands of Fate, The Secret World, Final Fantasy VII, Star Trek Online, Lineage, and Other Ramblings   3 comments

MANOS: The Hands of Fate, Freakzone

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…

Final Fantasy 7, Square Enix, Steam

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.

MANOS: The Hands of Fate, Freakzone, Humble, MST3K

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.

Final Fantasy 7, Square Enix, Steam

Alright… enough rambling. Game on, my friends.

// Ocho

Who is a True MMO Gamer?   8 comments

Lord of the Rings Online, concert, Sting

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.

Secret World, Hell Fallen

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.

Star Trek Online, Borg, Explosion

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 

Secret World, Filth, Whispering Tide

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.

// Ocho

The Best MMO Payment Model Ever   20 comments

Neverwinter, Payment model

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.

Guild Wars, no pants, payment model

Subscription

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.

This image is credit of Star Trek Online forum member 'centersolace'. Awesome.

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.

// Ocho

For Love of the Grind: 5 Reasons Why We Grind   10 comments

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!

Well, damn.

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.

// Ocho

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

Master of Orion and Syp: A Tale of Humanity   7 comments

“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.

// Ocho

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.

The Sims 4 is Offline – It Seems EA Has Been Paying Attention [TheSims4]   10 comments

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.

// Ocho

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.

Posted May 6, 2013 by Ocho in Other Gaming

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