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Archive for May, 2011

Munchkins are creepy.

They dress in absurdly colored gear (where everyone of equal rank and function looks the same), move in herds, wear their ridiculous guild membership like thugs, celebrate boss kills with silly dances, and their faith in the Yellow Brick Road as the One True Path to enlightenment borders on bizarre.

Oh, and their singing is like fingernails on a chalkboard.  Urgle.

But what of this “Yellow Brick Road” thing?

Yellow Brick Road

Questeth this way, braveth heros!*

*Brick road photograph from CGTextures.com, yellow “paint” added by Tesh

It leads to a Wizard of some sort, right?  The guy with all the answers?  Big floating, disembodied head with the power to grant wishes?  Except, oh, wait.  There’s this curtain involved.  And some dude with machines pulling off an elaborate authority scam.

And whaddayaknow… in the end, he says that the Scarecrow’s brain, the Lion’s courage and Tin Man’s heart were there from the start, developed through the journey they shared with a girl who only wanted to get home to the people she loved.

Maybe, just maybe… it’s the people and the journey after all.

Dorothy found her friends when she ventured from the path.  Her friends developed their own worth when they went even further off the path to save Dorothy.  The Yellow Brick Road ultimately took them somewhere they didn’t even need to go.

Maybe playing a game is more than just being passively entertained.  It certainly seems to me that the whole point of playing a game instead of watching a movie is to be an active participant, making decisions and solving problems.  (Note:  devs and players both have to take part in this.)

Maybe that road not taken really is the best road.  It makes all the difference when we choose to be agents of our own destiny instead of just following the well-trodden path.

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Ratcheted Subscription

Considering the little ways that Blizzard is content to ratchet up the pricing of their flagship World of Warcraft, perhaps it’s time again to float my Five Dollar Vanilla article, or a new variant: the Ratcheted Subscription model.  (Note, expansions will still need to be bought separately from the main game, and all other optional services for a charge will continue to operate as at present.  I might add a new Battle Chest SKU, though, where the original game and the now-three expansions are sold in one box for $50.)

Baseline  Perpetual Free Trials.  Take the existing ten day trial and extend it to an indefinite time.  Keep the restrictions on level, chat and money if you must, but know that other games do it better, and that free players are more of an asset than a liability.

$5/month  Choose one: PvE, PvP or raiding.

$10/month  Choose two: PvE, PvP or raiding.

$15/month  PvE, PvP and raiding.

$20/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding

$25/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change

$30/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing

$35/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing, player filter (automatically mutes and hides players who pay less than $20/month)

$40/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing, player filter (automatically mutes and hides players who pay less than $20/month), epic purple poster name on forums

$45/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing, player filter (automatically mutes and hides players who pay less than $20/month), epic purple poster name on forums, exclusive emote (“Heroic Hero” pose; all other players within 15 yards immediately bow toward player and grovel)

$50/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing, player filter (automatically mutes and hides players who pay less than $20/month), epic purple poster name on forums, exclusive emote (“Heroic Hero” pose; all other players within 15 yards immediately bow toward player and grovel), gold-plated WoW-specific keyboard, mouse and authenticator (will be reclaimed by Blizzard enforcers in the case of a change to a lower subscription rate)

$70/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing, player filter (automatically mutes and hides players who pay less than $20/month), epic purple poster name on forums, exclusive emote (“Heroic Hero” pose; all other players within 15 yards immediately bow toward player and grovel), gold-plated WoW-specific keyboard, mouse and authenticator (will be reclaimed by Blizzard enforcers in the case of a change to a lower subscription rate), RealID immunity

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If we’re going to lean in the direction of players being content in MMOs, and if we’re going to try to incentivize that with kickbacks, discounts or perks, we should probably get rid of levels and other barriers to playing together… and actually let the players generate content in a dynamic world, in addition to facilitating their ability to play together.

Incidentally, Whirled does this pretty well, though under a *gasp* free-to-play system that lets players generate their own content that can then generate revenue.  Weird, I know… but another illustration of how the fantasy-steeped level-then-raid two-game paradigm isn’t the One True Path to MMO design.

Of course, since people can also sometimes be the worst part of MMOs, and many aren’t all that interested in good game design, there are dark sides to opening the floodgates.  Still, if the goal is to encourage player interaction, even going so far as to bribe them, that would probably work best if the moment to moment play of the game supported such a goal.

Oh, and this is a good excuse to bring out one of my favorite MMO developer quotes again.

Daniel James of Three Rings (Puzzle Pirates being their incredible flagship) as quoted by the Penny Arcade guys:

Every player, free or paid, adds value to the community and excitement for other players. Free players are the content, context and society that encourages a small fraction of the audience to willingly pay more than enough to subsidize the rest.

Edited to add:

Incidentally, there’s an interesting discussion raging over on the Escapist forums about Valve’s theorizing that kicked this discussion off.

Escapist thread on this

This comment stuck out to me:

I kinda like the idea, maybe I’m a little impartial because I have a really magnetic personality and general can get a dead silent server to chatting like best friends in 10 minutes. But I would definitely love to get benefits for just being myself in games.

What about the intangibles of being social and liking what you’re doing? As in so many other things, if you try to engineer good behavior with extrinsic rewards, you might get it, but the rewards have to keep coming and even get better. The gravy train can’t stop or you get withdrawal and bad behavior.  People aren’t doing the right thing because it’s right, they are doing it because it benefits them. Once again, it’s a selfish motivation, not a selfless one, a completely mercenary approach to socializing.  That’s one of the big problems with forced grouping in MMOs, by the way.

Syp wrote nicely about this over thisaway:

The Selfish Gamer

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Just a quick thought this time.  Spinks has a great article up that refers to a couple of things regarding optimization and playstyle:

Optimization doesn’t belong in my MMOs

It made me wonder about this nebulous “right way” to play a game, especially one as… squishy… as an MMO.  I think we’re simply stuck with min-max players who will optimize their play.  There’s nothing really wrong with that, as it’s their choice, and arguably, the learning curve of a game may well be the most fun part, and optimization is a huge part of that learning process.  I think the trouble comes when players start telling other people how to play.

Yes, yes, things like a Recount addon and Armory profiles in WoW let players scrutinize each other to unhealthy extremes, even without RealID.  That’s probably the game devs erring on the side of “TMI” (Too Much Information).  Similarly, game design that demands optimization (rather than simply allowing it) is annoying to all but the min-max crowd.  (I keep almost typing that “Minmei“.)  I think that optimization can be fun, and that it has a place in games, but it shouldn’t be the baseline.  I’ve written about this before when thinking about autopiloting and broken games.

…and yet, I can’t help but think that the lion’s share of the “MMO optimization problem” is on the players’ shoulders.  If players would just focus on having their own fun and stop whining about others, well, then we could have a nice hippie “buy the world a Coke” group hug moment and get on with making better games.  Let the optimizers optimize and let the Role Players do their thing.  Live and let live.  (Well, except for the griefers.  I’m all for harsh automatic counterganking mechanics.  Jerks and bullies deserve a beatdown.  *ahem*)

As always, the real problem is the other players in a multiplayer game.  Even if we did have a level-less, gearless, addon-less MMO, we’d still have some who can’t resist telling others that they are doing something wrong.  We seem to be wired that way.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play my games my way.  It’s my time and my money, after all.

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Musical Onions

No, not The Star Onions, though they do have some great work.  I’m talking about other things today…

Onions have layers.  That’s important to Ogres, apparently.  People have layers, too, though in a world of Idols and Royals, one might be forgiven for thinking that people are entirely superficial and acting accordingly.

Photoshop has layers, as does Painter (though they took a few more years than Photoshop to see the light).  Layers and the Undo command have made working digitally a joy for many artists, giving us a lot more control over our art.  (Of course, working traditionally also allows a different sort of control that computers can never hope to match, but there are pros and cons of each medium.)

Games have layers, too.  Zomblobs! will have a strategic layer and a tactical layer, similar to how X-Com and Master of Orion have different layers of play.  In another tangent, there is something rewarding about having a game that functions on a simple layer for new players, and on a deeper layer for experienced players (though it can be tricky finding a good way to integrate those layers).  Tangentially, Dave Sirlin’s article on “Yomi” layers is a great read for game designers and players.

And then there’s music.  BlueKae tipped me off to this curious little tool, and I’ve been thinking about ways to use it:

Otomata

It’s a curious little tool, almost more “proof of concept” than a full-on music generator, but there’s a lot of potential there.  It uses cellular automaton algorithms similar to the seminal Conrad’s Game of Life to make procedural music.  (Procedural content generation and gameplay is one of those quirky things that game devs are especially interested in, for good reason as budgets balloon and player locusts churn through games.)  I imagine a version of Otomata that has different “instruments” with different timing tools running in different modules, allowing for a symphonic effect; layer upon layer of sound building to a greater whole.  Something like that could be an awesome addition to Zomblobs!, what with its undercurrent of cellular biology and weird science.

…or maybe we’ll just see a 733t hacker use it to recreate this little gem:

The Mysterious Ticking Noise

(Oh, and I’m still waiting for an Incredible Machine or Garry’s Mod version of this OK Go gem: This Too Shall Pass)

Either way, Otomata is a fun little tool to play with, and it has a lot of room to grow into something awesome.  Now, if only there were a hex-based version of it…

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