Archive for September, 2008

Games I Play, 2008

In which I list the games I’m playing or played recently, and give brief reviews on the same.

First up, the newest addition to the stable, Atlantica Online, currently in open beta. (more…)

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Thompson Tangent

My friend sent me this link:

Thompson disbarred

To which I simply say, it’s about time. I’m no fan of the vapid, immature garbage that our industry produces (GTA being the poster child, AoC being the MMO example), but Thompson is just a rabid nutjob that needs to be ignored.  Of course, he won’t just fade away, but at least some people in authority are calling him on his shenanigans, and his credibility should take a (well-deserved) hit.


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For Instance

Instancing is one of the major tools in a designer’s hands to alter the dynamics of an MMO’s world.  Guild Wars embraces instancing, while EverQuest 2 eschews it.  There are those who passionately flame away about the inferiority of either approach.  And then there’s this:

How much is too much?

This is really just a snippet, but looking at some of the responses, I found something interesting.  One poster, “tanek”, asserts that an instanced world is a more dynamic one.  Not even two hours later, “Everrest” states that a non-instanced world is more dynamic.  …in the inimitable words of Inigo Montoya: “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”


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Product Lifespan

I’ve mused about the lifespan of MMOs before, asking “should we be trying to keep them alive for the long run, or just treat them like any other game”?  In my mind, the subscription model is built around trying to keep people playing for as long as possible.  I’ve suspected that the typical MMO lifespan is more like any other offline game, with many players playing early, and a gradual decline as time goes on.

So I found this little gem in Raph’s archives:

MMO usage graphs


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When I design games (or pontificate about other game design), I keep a few things in mind:

  • Give players choices, and give those choices consequences
  • Keep the core concept simple, but easy to expand
  • Fun before finance
  • Keep the brain engaged
  • Don’t waste players’ time
  • Aim high

Of course, there are genre-specific concerns, but I’ve found that these are the basic things that I try to incorporate into what designs I contemplate or create.  A card game that I recently designed used these as much as the crazy convoluted concepts that I have rattling around for MMOs and RPGs.

Is any of that groundbreaking?  Not likely.  It’s just my little way of getting down some thoughts I’ve had, and perhaps putting some of my other writings into context.  I see games as a unique and precious art form, and I’m always trying to raise the “state of the art”.

Games have given me a great deal over the years, and I’d like to return the favor by making any games that I work on something special.  They keep my brain alive and learning, and I hope that my work can do the same for others.

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Rethinking Thinking

Once again, I’m late to the party.  I happened upon this multipage dissertation a few days ago:

Rethinking MMOs

…and found that much of what I see wrong with the state of the MMO genre has already been elaborated on.  Sure, I might have a sibilant spin on the situation, or a particularly philosophical (or pedantic) phraseology, but in the end, I’m really just riding the tail end of the wave.

So why do I keep writing?  Because I want to, because it gets it out of my system, and because looking at things through new eyes might just help someone think a bit more.  It’s also good when I get feedback, which helps refine my thinking.  It’s also nice to think that I’m coming to similar conclusions in a relative vacuum, just from a bit of play experience and extensive research on existing MMO game mechanics and game design. (more…)

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Groundhog Day

I loved the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day.  Sure, it could have been better, but the core concept and Murray’s performance proved to be both entertaining and thought provoking.  So… yeah… MMOs.  In a world where nothing major really changes (at least, not because of player actions), and where completing a quest makes you the Hero of the Day!!! for all of ten minutes before the next schlub turns in the same quest, I think the “infinite loop day” is a relatively relevant concept.


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Endgame in-game?

There’s an interesting article over here that details a presentation from the guy behind the Zen of Design blog.  As much as I cast a baleful eye on the WoW mindset that “the game starts at 70” and some of the misguided game design that comes from that, Damion Schubert has some great points.

Thing is, to my mind, the things that he talks about as being interesting in the endgame are really things that should be either interspersed throughout the leveling grind, or the leveling system itself needs to be severely recalibrated, or removed entirely.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but if the “endgame” is really the “true” potential of an MMO, why are we wasting time on a leveling system at all?  What sort of MMO design could embrace the “endgame” mentality as Schubert describes it, and make a complete game based entirely on the parts of the game that are the whole point of the MMO genre?


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I happened upon this little gem today:

WoW can haz free?

They link to an article that suggests that Blizzard has spent $200 million to date (five years so far) on keeping WoW up and running. That seems like a lot (and it is), but compared to the revenue they are likely bringing in with over ten million subscribers at around $15/month ($9 billion over five years, or $1.8 billion per year), that’s a surprisingly small amount. Now, non-Americans don’t pay as much as we do for a few reasons, and they haven’t had that many subscribers for the whole five years, so that total is probably closer to, say, $2-3 billion or so, but still… yikes.

I’m not sure I can take those assertions at face value, (more…)

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This is just a minipost to point out a distinction that may not be clear in my other writings.  I love World of Warcraft.  I love the art direction, the animation, the music, the lore and the game itself.  It’s not perfect, and I can find many ways to make it better, but when all is said and done, it is a remarkably accessible game that is thoroughly fun to play.

I do not, however, love the business aspects of the game.  To my mind, the subscription model is an unnecessary barrier to entry, a limiter on innovation, a constraint on design, and a dishonest representation of the costs of the game.  This is a systemic complaint that I have with the MMO genre, and not something specific to WoW, though WoW does have some unique troubles within those broader complaints.

This dichotomy is why I’ve written that I would pay good money for an offline version of WoW.  The game is that good.  I simply refuse to support a business model that I see as ill-advised froma game design standpoint, and unnecessarily expensive from a gamer’s standpoint.

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