Wednesday, November 27, 2013

DFUW: A wolf in sheep's clothing.

Syncaine has an interesting piece today about sheeps and wolves. It's an enjoyable post and I mostly agree with him. That said, he continues to draw a lot of his Darkfall conclusions based on his EVE experience.
Syncaine wrote:
What the vast majority of these players are looking for is actually a very PvE-focused, social (no not that kind of ‘social) experience, just with the flavoring of an open world and PvP. They don’t play in spite of the PvP, but they also don’t only play for it.
And that's where I strongly disagree with Syncaine. Darkfall is not simply EVE with swords. The games share some similarities, but the core audience for these game is very different. To illustrate this, let's go to the actual websites for both games and look at how they are marketed to gamers.

Darkfall is specifically marketed as the best PvP MMORPG you will ever experience. Whereas, EVE is marketed as a sandbox universe of unbounded opportunity that you can explore, roam or conquer.

Darkfall: Unholy Wars
Prepare for epic battles.  
Made for PVP!  
Hardcore gaming reinvented  
Do you have what it takes?
Darkfall Unholy Wars completely revolutionizes the concept of epic combat.

A game massive by design as well as concept, Darkfall Unholy Wars comes with a host of features, options, and game-styles for you to choose and discover as you travel through the rich, beautiful and deadly lands of Agon.

Find out how Unholy Wars can easily burn through the adrenaline that feeds even the most hardcore of gamers, and discover what makes it the best PvP MMORPG you will ever experience!

EVE Online
One universe to explore and conquer.  
Discover your future in the sandbox.  
Let your mind roam over EVE's creations.  
Be a capsuleer and experience something more.
In EVE, a universe of unbounded opportunity awaits new capsuleers, whether they lust after wealth, crave the fight or simply yearn for adventure among the stars.

Starting as a new pilot in a training frigate, players can choose from hundreds of skills to train and develop. The choice of skills to train is entirely up to the player. There are no mutually-exclusive branches in a skill tree that is both wide and deep. Over time, a character can be honed into a specialist or adapted for many situations.

The central difference is that one game, Darkfall, is a PVP game first and foremost.  While it has sandbox elements, you'll find that it doesn't actually market itself as a sandbox game.  EVE, on the other hand, is clearly a true sandbox and it openly advertises the fact that you have the opportunity to do anything you want within it's game world.

One game will have you "burn through the adrenaline" and the other would have you "let your mind roam over EVE's creations".

Darkfall: A world full of Wolves
The sheep versus wolf analogy, while a good one, is not a perfect fit for Darkfall. The reason is simple: Most players think they are a Wolves.

The game attracts wolves because it's marketed to wolves, so it's simply not a wolf-eat-sheep world. It's a wolf-eat-wolf world. Sometimes, the other wolf is bigger or meaner or simply luckier than you. And sometimes that means that you fulfill the sheep role in Syncaine's analogy while other times, you'll win and fulfill the wolf role.  If the other pack includes a bunch of big alpha males, you simply need to get more wolves in your pack to compete.

Darkfall, unfortunately, is currently not a place for the real sheep or would-be-sheeps. That's not because of all of us wolves. That's because it's a sandbox without any sand. Would it make for a better game if Darkfall had sand like EVE? Absolutely. But it's not currently in a state where you could simply selectively pick a couple of things that would magically make it attractive to sheep.  Quite literally, AV would need to build that part of the game from the ground up again to attract an entirely different player.

But I don't know that we need true sheep.  After all, the problem with Darkfall: Unholy Wars was never that it had too many wolves and not enough sheep.  Wolves, after all, can simply eat the other wolves.

Friday, November 22, 2013

DFUW: Theorycraft vs Pragmatism

Discussions about game design often come from idealists who have grand opinions about how MMOs should work.  We need the idealists to be creative.  Big dreams lead to big ideas and innovations.

But we also need pragmatists.  Suggestion forums are always littered with the dreams of idealists because some ideas, while creative, are not practical to implement or don't solve for the underlying root problem.  Pragmatism is important because it uses prediction and problem-solving to understand the practical implication of a change.

The recent Darkfall controversy surrounding the "breaking of gear on gank" is a great example of where idealism fails in the face of pragmatism.  Simply put, while the idea may warrant some consideration, it's not a practical solution to the real problem facing Darkfall.

Producers, Consumers and Decomposers
A thriving MMO economy is much like an ecosystem, with Producers, Consumers and Decomposers.  All living things can be placed into one of these three categories.  Producers make products, Consumers use the products produced, and Decomposers break everything down.

Syncaine would argue that Darkfall needs more Decomposers.  As mentioned above, the concept is not necessarily flawed at it's core, since clearly that's how nature works.  But the problem with the economy goes much much deeper than a lack of Decomposers.  

Producers in Darkfall lack a variety in what they can produce.  As an armorer, you can make 7 different ranks of armor. There are no style variations.  The first four aren't viable for PVP and the last is too costly.  This leaves two ranks: Full Plate and Dreadplate that are worth crafting.  It's even worse for cloth wearers, who have two less ranks of armor available.

A common complaint here is that Darkfall is a sandbox without any sand.  Syncaine likes to draw inspiration from EVE but even the most simple ship in EVE has more complexity to it than an entire skill tree within Darkfall for crafters.  If you craft armor, your end-game is making 500 pieces of Dreadplate for the prowess feat.

Which leads me to the second major problem.  Producers also have an incentive to produce for reasons other than supply and demand.  A functioning economy is based on the principles of supply and demand.  The prowess system within Darkfall as it's currently implemented breaks this dynamic by providing an incentive to artificially increase supply.  

As you Produce, you earn prowess that can be used towards things that have nothing to do with Production.  Min/Maxers use crafting and harvesting as an easy way to farm prowess points that can be used towards PVP skills.  The net effect is that "raw, unrefined materials" are worth more than crafted items making it nearly impossible to turn a profit as a crafter.  

Exacerbating this problem, Consumers have little incentive "to do things" in-game that would result in the actual consumption of what is produced.  I'll speak to this again in a moment, but without things "to do" -- there is no need to use or consume.

There are other deeper issues as well.  Massive excesses from normal play of useless materials.  AFK activities that yield some of the largest wealth gains.  Consumables that are more expensive to make than armor.  Missing crafts like Enchanting.  And that's just those that come top of mind.

"Break on gank" is not the solution
The above is a really simple illustration that the problems plaguing the economy are much deeper than simply not having enough sinks or having too many faucets.

The central argument for advocating gear destruction is that it:
  • Eliminates excess gear that was produced
  • Forces people out into the world to harvest
  • If people are out in the world, PVP can find you and you can find PVP
  • It makes resources more valuable
The practical reality is a bit different, however.  First, not everyone has excess gear that needs to be eliminated.  The vast majority farm only what they need to consume.  As noted above, there is no need to consume, so (big surprise) things aren't getting consumed.

Secondly, the idea that forcing people to actively harvest will create PvP hotspots is inherently flawed because no harvesting activity in Darkfall is worth risking gear. People work to farm with minimal risk. This means using classes that can run away and/or gear that is sub-par for PVP.

I want to stress this second point because it's critical to understanding why turning "harvesting" whether it be mobs or resources, is not a great PVP solution.  The nature of a PVP game like Darkfall is to manage risk vs. reward.  Players will farm things in the most efficient and safest possible manner.

Some practical examples of how players manage risk:
  • The pretty standard and most accepted way of farming many high level mobs is to go naked, with a powerful bow.  Coupled with archery role (skirmisher) that has the greatest mobility, you can easily run away if someone jumps you.  It's very low risk, high reward.
  • When you farm resources, you either do it from a safe zone, you do it from the safety of your holding, or you do it naked with nothing more than your pick axe.  You can do all three of these things AFK.
  • AV introduced a sub-holding system called Villages which are on a daily timer and offered resources to the owner.  They made it possible to "steal" from these Villages in an effort to create PVP hotspots.  What actually happens is that people go "steal" naked and then go hide in a player-owned house behind a closed door.
The point here is that player behavior is such that simply forcing people to farm and harvest isn't going to get people to harvest or farm in a meaningful way that will make me want to encounter them for PVP.  Syncaine would have you believe that breaking gear would lead to people to farm more frequently.  In that, he's absolutely correct.  However, they wouldn't farm in such a way that would lead to meaningful PVP.

Players will work to minimize the risk as much as possible.  Few will farm for great gear in great gear.  The vast majority will do it as cheaply and easily as possible and fill the world with naked farmers and harvesters who hug safe zones and run away from fights.  Oh sure, it's rewarding in it's own way to "farm the farmers" but  forcing more people to endure the cycle of grief that comes from forced harvesting is hardly the solution to a declining population.

It's not the economy, stupid.
Clearly, the economy is broken in Darkfall.  It lacks depth and it's not welcoming to the "pure" crafter. Is it "A" problem? Yes.  Is it "THE" problem?  No.

If you read my entry after the beta NDA was lifted, I wrote:
By the third month, [AV] better have something new or anyone without a strong vision for the game is going to lose interest. [...] Right now, the potential problem is that there simply isn't enough interesting things "to do" when not sieging to keep people logged in.
The 'lack of things to do' is a statement that every long-term player has recognized as the core problem since beta.  The population decline was easily predictable.

The idea that 'breaking gear' is going to solve for population decline is laughable.  You don't have to look any farther than the Forumfall reactions to The Loot Nazi that I posted Tuesday to understand that this idea is toxic and will drive players away from the game.

And how many will come back because it's introduced as a new feature? I don't know a single person who would come back for this reason.  We even have a thread on our private clan forums asking what will bring people back -- this isn't mentioned once.

In fact, other than the 'not enough sand in the sandbox' comments because of the lack of things to craft or build, the economy is not mentioned at all.  Is the economy broken?  Yes.  But "faucets and sinks" are not actually the area that needs the most attention.  These just need a band-aid to stop the bleeding and then AV needs to turn it's attention to things that WILL bring players back.

Part of the irony is that Darkfall already has a "gear break" sink in the game in the form of durability.  As you use armor and weapons, it degrades by consuming durability which is lost forever.  There are no 'repairs' -- if you use your sword until it breaks, it's gone.  I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that simply providing people more things to do (which everyone does want) would naturally increase the rate at which items break.

AV has already said they plan to address the biggest concern players have about the economy (which is scraping that has led to players being able to AFK quite a bit of wealth).  They are moving that resource (treasure maps) to mobs.  This is a great start and the only really pressing need with the economy itself.

Reduces incentive to PVP
In Syncaine's blog post on Sunday, he wrote:
Forumfall had (and is still having) an epic hissy fit. [The] most common and perhaps most idiotic: “Removing items from a grave would reduce the incentive to PvP"
It's interesting that he calls this reaction both common and idiotic. It demonstrates both his disdain for the rest of the community and how truly disconnected he is from them.

The incentive to PVP is actually a very valid concern.

As I pointed out above, much of this game is about managing risk.  Knowing the other guy is wearing a 70k gear bag is all the reason I need to risk my 70k bag to go kill him.  That dynamic starts to change if you devalue the worth of that bag and it grows exponentially as people trade bags back and forth.

In some of the truly great and most epic fights, it's not uncommon for gear bags to be traded frequently.  If I just lost my 70k gear bag, if I can, I'll re-gear and try to catch the guy before he can bank it. In group fights, this is actually VERY common.

We had a series of fights the other night between one of our holdings and a chaos stone where an enemy group was camped.  The same gear bags were traded back/forth at least three times.  We pushed when we shouldn't have pushed to get those bags back.  They pushed when they shouldn't have pushed to get their gear bags back.

If, as Syncaine had proposed, a portion of the contents of those bags was destroyed each time a person would have been ganked, not only would we not have continued the fight, but we all would have ended up fighting naked.

Carson commented on my last blog post that:
I find it interesting that the main objection is not "I don't want my shit to break when I die!" but rather "I don't want some other guy's shit to break when I kill him, and stop me from looting it!"
Now consider that the guy I'm trying to kill just looted my clan-mates bag and I am attempting to retrieve it for him.  And that my goal is to stop, stall or gank that guy to keep him from banking that bag.  I'll risk more and try harder because I am A LOT more motivated to stop him.

If 50% of the stuff in my clan mates's original bag was lost on the death, and then 50% again when I gank the enemy to get it back -- there may be only 25% of the clan members contents left in the bag.  To say that's not a serious de-motivator for PVP is to simply not understand how PVP works in Darkfall.

A game centered on PVP demands solutions to PVP
No one needs a reason to PVP other than the "full loot" nature of the game.  As I wrote above, that's all the incentive that is often needed to keep people pushing hard at each other.

What we DO need is to know where players are so that we can engage them. We need more timed events that attract players and act as neon sign that say PVP IS HERE.

Right now, there are three types of timed events:
  • Sieges.  These are player initiated.  There are some issues here, mainly with siege performance, but for the most part they still function well for the intended purpose of creating a PVP hotspot.
  • Villages.  Completely broken as implemented.  As noted above, the stealing mechanic is broken.  AV has re-vamped this system several times.  There is a good suggestion coming out of MVP forums that I think is perhaps too infrequent and unnecessarily complicated, but it's a start.
  • Sea Towers.  These work excellent.  Every sea tower fight gets a lot of PVP and more resources are destroyed from ships sinking and wasted consumables than gained by the winner of the tower.
In my mind, the optimal solution here is to make villages a sort of mini- land based version of the Sea Towers.  That's more or less what the MVP solution is, so this is promising.

I'm also a big advocate for more directional things that would encourage players to go do a specific PVE activity.  Again, the idea here is BIG NEON SIGNS telling people to GO HERE.  

For example, a weekly feat for the dungeons.  Or some turn-in that only drops off one of the mobs located on a specific sub-continent.  These things might be a bit cheesy, but they do get people moving to the same general area and that's the type of thing that will spark a ton of PVP at portal chambers and nearby Chaos banks.  As I said, AV needs to add "things to do" and more "things to do".

As for scarcity, you don't need a massive sink.  All you need to do is make that turn-in valuable for things consumed in PVP.  If I can go kill mobs, get this thing off them, and turn them in for Greater Rejuv potions or good food?  I'll happily go hunt the bastards down and kill them and anyone farming them.

Full Disclosure
I've kept my in-game identity separate from my blogging identity.  In-game, I actively lead what continues to be arguably the largest and most active clan on NA1.  At one point, we had over 200 actives and an in-game clan roster of 400 including alts.  We were involved in a siege two days ago and we fielded 40.  If you play DFUW, you likely recognize that I am describing Imperium.

Imperium is a great clan and our structure is such that I'm not the only leader (nor am I the founder).  I am, however, one of the most influential and longest standing leaders.  If you are reading this and you are in Imperium, I'm sure you've can put 1+1 together but I'd ask that you keep my in-game identity to yourselves.

I mention this because I know why my clan members joined the game, and, over time, why they left the game and even why some have returned. I understand why people are motivated to play this game.  I'm not relating theories.  I'm speaking from the practical experience of managing and keeping one of the most active clans in Darkfall to continue to be active.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

No Loot for You!

The Loot Nazi
Image credits to Ele Goulding
It may be every gaming bloggers dream to have the ear of a game developer who actually listens to your ideas and considers implementing them.

It's the MMO blogging equivalent of striking the mother lode or winning the lottery.

So you can imagine how our dear friend, Syncaine, must have felt to be invited to the exclusive MVP forum by Averturine to discuss the current and future game state of Darkfall: Unholy Wars.

I respect Syncaine and enjoy his blog.  He makes some good points and he is a good advocate for a more common sense type of MMO that I enjoy.  If not for him, I would never have even tried Darkfall 1 and later Darkfall: Unholy Wars.

So it's with this perspective that I begin my narrative. I'll post another blog entry in a day or so on my opinions, but this post will mostly be about a blogger and his dream.

Our story begins with the creation of an exclusive club:
[...] we have created the MVP forum, a private invitation-only forum section for discussions featuring direct developer participation. The first wave of invites has been sent to a diverse group of players, and more will follow.
-Tasos Flambouras, founder of Aventurine

Invitations were private and who was an MVP member with "direct developer" interaction was unknown. The first rule of the club: Don't talk about who is in the club. Now if the secretive nature of the MVP club seems like a bad idea to you -- you aren't alone.
MVP forums are essentially telling me, the average player, that my opinion is worthless.
-Valnak, subscriber and non-MVP member

We have since learned that within MVP forum, the following idea was circulated to the MVP community for feedback by one of the game's developers:
On the gear sink front, the idea of items getting damaged when a player is ganked had been circulated in the office for a while now and we feel it’s a step in the right direction. This does not hurt the willingness of players of any wealth to gear up and go out since when they are ganked, their items, especially the valuable ones, are more than likely looted or lost in the fray. There are some options here and we would like your feedback on them.

One is whether only equipped items or all items, including ones in the inventory, should receive the durability hit. Another option would be choosing between a flat x% chance of an item breaking or items receiving a flat durability hit and if that takes them to zero durability, then they break.

We also thought of replacing items that reach zero durability with their broken versions. This would however lessen the effect we are trying to achieve by creating an influx of materials so we have decided against it.
-Vangelis, an AV game developer

By all reports, Syncaine seized upon this idea and EleGoulding, an MVP member, described his reaction within the MVP forum:
The idea was one of many that got tossed around, it wasn't the main priority of discussion until Syn Caine started bringing it up every other post.
-EleGoulding, an MVP member
Now the idea of a gear sink in Darkfall is not a new one and it already exists in the form of durability. As items are used, whether through PvP or PvE, item durability is consumed.  There is no repair, so when an item breaks, it disappears from your inventory. Weapons, in particular, degrade quite quickly and armor degrades at a moderate rate.

The central issue at the moment is that very few players are actively doing anything other than PvP and even this is limited to duels and maybe one skirmish a night.

Uzik, another MVP forum member, leaked a snippet of his argument with Syncaine in the MVP forums:

Here is how retarded this gear grind logic is.
They are saying:
-People have lots of gear in their banks
-People don't log into Darkfall because they have too much gear
-Therefore if people had less gear, they would log in and play more

This is the reality:
-People have nothing to do in game
-People don't log into the game
-People have lots of gear in their banks because no one is playing, and those who are playing don't do anything
-Therefore if people had more things to do they would lose more gear

MAKING GEAR HARDER TO GET WILL NOT ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO PVP. If you don't encourage people do play the population will continue to dwindle. AV NEEDS TO ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO PVP AND ACTIVELY PLAY THE GAME.
-Uzik, an MVP member

Now, as previously noted, this discussion happened behind closed doors in the MVP forums. AV released a lackluster patch this last week and the community was pretty upset about it. In reaction, AV allowed the MVP forums to shed their anonymity and share with the rest of the community the things that had been discussed.

I do not believe the reaction they received is the one they hoped to achieve. The first comment against the gear destruction on gank was relatively benign from a Forumfall newbie.

Sounds good, but the only thing i have a problem with is when some items are destroyed when you Gank someone, that sucks :( im sure there are plenty of other ways to have gold sinks and item sinks.
-Blackmeat, 20 posts, joined May 2013
Syncaine was quick to respond:
Such as? Keep in mind the extent of the sink needed here, it has to be fairly massive.

Sinks are difficult to viewed as a short-term positive because the initial reaction is "you are taking stuff away from me!" , but without them most aspects of an MMO simply don't work. It can sometimes be difficult to see the long-term benefits of a properly balanced economy, but current DF:UW is a good example of what happens when you don't have one. The lack of motivation to farm mobs, fight over holdings/villages/sea towers, the underutilized market, the stagnation in crafting; all of these things exist today primarily because DF:UW lacks a sink big enough to counteract the many faucets we have.
-Syncaine, author of Hardcore Casual
Massive? Huh? IMO, this is one of the first signs that Syncaine is disconnected from the rest of the Darkfall community. At no point has anyone brought up the need of a 'massive' sink.

It's also clear he doesn't understand the cause-and-effect relationship about why people don't fight mobs, fight over holdings (??), use the market or stagnation in crafting. I'll write about why he's wrong in another post but it's obvious to everyone who still plays that "gear destruction on gank" is not a central issue that needs to be addressed to retain, attract or bring back players.

The next few posts are from people who have now been revealed as MVP members and it's obvious that they've discussed this already on the MVP forums.

Jonah Viel, one of the most well known and respected PVPers in the game and whose "balance" posts on PVP are widely regarded as the most well-thought out cuts right to the crux of the issue.
The problem with Unholy Wars was never gear not leaving fast enough.

It is the fact that we all were allowed to harvest in safezones for rare essences and as such, the market is ruined.

If you want to actually FIX the economy, it's either with a wipe and new rules (not every 3 months btw, that is an awful idea, no offense to whoever came up with it, but that is really horrible), or with introducing new loot that people all need.
-Jonah[fataLity], non-MVP member
For Forumfall, it's mostly been a positive discussion to this point. There are some concerns, but overall, people like what they have read about the other changes. Then it starts to take a turn for the worse.
It's totally deflating that anyone would suggest implementing a feature like this. It's quite possibly one of the worst ideas I've seen circulated around these forums. It completely violates the principle of risk vs reward, which is the heart of Darkfall.
-bsrge, 90 posts
My opinion on this is that the gear break idea is a bad idea. Here's why, it doesn't solve the problem. Will gear breaking on gank make people come back? Resounding no. Is it going to solve the economy problem? No.
-Cyber-Hick, 800+ posts
As many mentioned the idea of losing durability when ganked totally sucks in my opinion. This is our reward for going out and killing our enemies. Broken armors and weapons as reward? This is the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
- AseldingVentus, 1000+ posts
How is a durability hit on gank even up for discussion? How the fuck is that a priority at all at the moment? All that will do is devalue the full loot system. So frustrating.
- Sumdyar_VZ, 1000+ posts
When the hottest topic coming out of the MvP forums is "gear break on gank" instead of fixing easily fixable issues that have been plaguing the game since early beta there is a huge problem.
The suggestion forums were doing just fine before the MvP forums. After this latest "gear break on gank" fiasco, the MvP forums is a joke to me. I don't want people like SynCaine having "higher value input" in what gets implemented into the game, when the guy played maybe a year of df1.
-Dim Mok, founder of Sick Bastards
Can't believe people are actually even considering this... It's fucking stupid. Add real shit to the game please. Better yet just Buff villages, stealing, mob drops.
-Erock, 1000+ posts
I don't like the idea of being forced to 'destroy' things simply to get rid of them. Positive incentive through creation is a better sink for a sandbox. Add new tiers of armor that required the lower tiers as part of the mats.
- rhodric, 80 posts
All I can say is if they actually do implement it then truly AV is intentionally trolling us...
-Mycke, an MVP member
I think you've demonstrated well enough that exactly what we thought was going to happen with the MVP forums indeed did happen; where they admit people who have terrible opinions (and run blogs filled with terrible opinions, in your case) and then hold their terrible opinions to an undeserved level of status.
- Abaratican, 5000+ posts
I fear the MVP forum will do more harm than good if this is a serious topic. Embarrassing, they clearly choose people that don't create constructive input, but better yet volume posters who have put on a big show.
-Degmara (Tony Yayo), member since 2003
The fact that AV is even considering something like gear destruction on ganks before addressing the real problem is quite upsetting.
-Dhalsim, 300 posts
Syncaine said its a good idea.. And I don't know if you are aware of this but he has a blog and holds the record for bringing people into Darkfall(Im sure that the top notch PVP videos being released by the like of Jonah Veil did nothing for the game)
Fix the game before making such drastic changes that could take away from PVP value. If they get people into the world with smart development and there is still an abundance of gear lets revisit the idea then.
-Synik, 3000+ posts
No one wants SynCaine and Xipher to represent them. I mean honestly, who here can say they have EVER had any substantial interaction in-game with either of them?
I don't even know if SynCaine even played DF1 or DFUW for a good amount of time. MVP's were supposed to be pillars of the community who could represent the best interest of the players, not just advance their own playstyles.
-Uzik, an MVP forum member

For the sake of fairness to Syncaine, I left out most of the comments that were far more harsh in their criticism of him personally and his credentials. The essence here is that this 'gear break' topic has had a significant backlash and Syncaine has largely taken the brunt of the attacks since he has been acting as the idea's biggest advocate. I have to think that given the high hopes for "developer interaction" that he must have had upon getting into the MVP forums, this reaction from the community must be a very bitter pill to swallow.

Right now, he is perhaps the most villified and hated person on the Darkfall forums.

And the simple truth of the matter is -- he's wrong.

It's not that the concept of gear breakage is necessarily flawed at it's core. It's that it's too late to make these kinds of changes and it's simply not a change that will bring people back to the game.

Quite the opposite, it's a polarizing change that will drive players away from the game. That's the worst possible thing for Darkfall right now. Particularly since the "economy" is not the most broken part of the game. This is blindingly obvious to those of us who still regularly play but not so obvious to those who mainly theorycraft on their blog about how MMOs should work under ideal conditions.

The lack of a "gear-break" feature is also not the cause of the current problems that plague Darkfall. There are a host of other reasons why the economy is broken in Darkfall that have nothing to do with scarcity of resources.

I'll address that claim in a future post, but for now, let me just say that the economy is not simply broken because of sinks and faucets. The economy is broken because it lacks depth and crafters can't make a profit.

Friday, October 11, 2013

DFUW: A couple of videos...

This is a pretty clever Darkfall video that I thought was worth a re-share.  I'm still playing DFUW very regularly - which is surprising since I've been playing since beta and expected to be bored with it a few months after release at most.

On the subject of Darkfall itself, I find that the game is best suited for people who like to play FPS games and want to evolve their gaming to an MMO.  If that describes you, I think you'll love the game.

The above video doesn't really describe the gameplay.  The below video is a better example of how combat plays out in DFUW.   It's not the most exciting video ever made (that's not why I chose it) but it's a good example of how you need to squirm and aim.

You will notice that after someone is downed, they aren't actually out of it until someone takes the time to stop and gank them.  This forces them to release and anything they were carrying is lootable.

For the most part, I hate DF videos because they really don't represent the game well.  That combat is vastly more immersive than anything you'll experience in any other MMO.   You don't have visibility behind you, you have to aim to hit, it's easy to miss a shot or overlook something, you need to be aware of  friendly fire, and if you die and get ganked -- you lose something very tangible.  

That said, you don't lose so much that you couldn't recover from it in a few hours or even a single encounter when if you kill/gank/loot someone. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Darkfall Unholy Wars: The MMO that shouldn't be compared to other MMOs

Darkfall: Unholy Wars launched on Steam recently and I understand that a lot of the poster comments have been less than favorable.  Many of which say things like "don't buy it, this game takes MMOs backwards" or some such nonsense.

Unfortunately for AV, Darkfall Unholy Wars is suffering from the reputation of the original Darkfall.  The irony is that the thing that made DF1 so grindy was the progression system and that's actually part of what is making the game extremely fun in Unholy Wars.

Darkfall is NOT an MMO
OK, well it is an MMO. But my point is that if you are thinking of trying Darkfall, you shouldn't think of it as an MMO. I wrote this on Syncaine's blog tonight in the comments of his review:

If you like FPS games, if you like MMOs, if you like PvP, and if you like banding together with others — there isn’t a better game that combines all of these things that exists.

Darkfall is a misunderstood beast because people want to label it as just an MMO and then hold it up for comparison against other MMOs.

Honestly, that’s just a very small part of the appeal. Many of the people actually playing Darkfall come from more skill-based games like FPS shooters. That’s why bloggers like Tobold don’t “get” the Darkfall concept — they compare it to WoW and EvE when they should also be comparing it to entirely different games (like Tribes and WWII Online).

To be honest, Syncaine doesn’t really help the cause because he draws a lot of his own comparisons to other MMOs including EvE. This game has almost nothing in common with EvE — it’s so NOT EvE that I find the comparison ludicrous.

It’s a shame because you have a lot of DF haters posting on Steam because they are thinking of this game entirely in the context of an MMO. It’s that, for sure, but it’s also these other things. 
Adding on to what I wrote in his comments, there are things that exist (and work!) in a game like Darkfall that wouldn't work in other games because the game is designed around certain PvP concepts.  It's simply not accurate to say, "well, we can compare this feature to other MMOs and know it doesn't work" -- because it DOES work in Darkfall because the game is DESIGNED FOR IT TO WORK.

The best example of this is "full loot" PvP.  Scary stuff, right?  Nope.  The game is designed to be easy to lose and easy to gain.  I've farmed a few sets a gear, lost a few sets of gear, and battle looted a few sets of gear.  That's simply how the game is designed.  And it simply wouldn't work right if it wasn't designed that way.

Why Darkfall is the MMO that isn't like other MMOs
If you have read any of my blog postings over the years, you'll know that one of the things I despise is when people place labels on games to attempt to put them in a box.

Darkfall can't be placed in a single box.

WoW is it's own box.  EvE is it's own box.  Darkfall is neither -- it's something different and deserves it's own box.  Sure, it has some familiar MMO parts, but it also has parts from completely other genres.  It has just as much in common with skill-based first person shooters as it does with any other MMO.

Combat is far faster paced than a normal MMO and it's not easy.  But it's not always about the individual skill level, it's often about the skill level of the group.  It's a very dynamic game where the objectives and goals are more oriented at PvP.

A game built for PvP
If you don't enjoy the PvP experience, don't unfairly toss your opinions on a game whose entire design is built around making a fun PvP experience.  Shame on you for casting disparaging remarks about a game that's simply not meant for you.

That's really my point of this blog post.  Darkfall is for people who enjoy PvP, who enjoy MMOs, who enjoy fast and skill-based FPS combat, and who enjoy grouping with others to form a common cause.

In this way, the game is unique and as an MMO community we should be fostering the development of these types of games rather than trying to criticize a game that's not entirely in the MMO genre.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Darkfall Unholy Wars: Prowess & Character Progression

I am a big believer that RPGs are largely driven by character progression.  In MMOs, the dial gets turned up even further because the shared world experience breeds competition between players. This won't hold true for everyone, but I do believe it holds true for the vast majority.  In the PvP game, character progression also leads to an advantage in PvP and the "reward" for progressing your character is more tangible in that it allows you to vanquish your enemies more easily.

In other words, in a game like Darkfall, the motivation dial to make your character as powerful as quickly as possible is set to a very high setting.  The more effective you are at character development, the more viable you are at PvP.

The problem with original Darkfall Online (DF1)
Not to be confused with Darkfall Unholy Wars, DF1 is the original Darkfall that was launched back in 2009 and closed it's servers in 2012 in preparation for it's successor, Darkfall: Unholy Wars (DF:UW).

In the original, characters were progressed by "skilling up" an ability by actually using that ability. If you wanted to be better at melee combat, you needed to get out there and swing that sword. Pretty much everything could be skilled up -- even mundane things like Swimming and Sprinting.

In addition to skill gains, there were stat gains. Unlike other games, wearing armor only provided better protection, it didn't provide more stats.  In fact, without the stats for it -- you simply couldn't wear the armor.

You will hear other reasons why people may not have played DF1 but many of those reasons will be opinions about a style of gaming that player simply doesn't like to play.  Ultimately, the problem with DF1 came down to two major flaws:
  • It's exploitable through macros. Players quickly learned that if they just setup a script or macro to have themselves swim in a circle, it would yield them stat gains.  The more hardcore players would "blood wall" and set up macros where they attacked each other without delivering a killing blow.  Looped endlessly overnight, these macros would progress players without them doing any actual work.
  • Exacerbating the above problem, the grind was incredible. I am not a casual player and I played for 3 solid hardcore months and still barely progressed my character.  It simply wasn't worth the effort to continue playing particularly if the only way to "catch up" was to use macros.
The problems I am describing here are deeply rooted and linked to why players who otherwise enjoyed the game quit.  They simply didn't want to keep a computer logged in macro'ing for 8 hours a night in order to be competitive. 

The early beta solution in Darkfall Unholy Wars (DF:UW)
At the start of Unholy Wars beta in December, the above system still existed but the developers had taken some steps to mitigate the problem.  Aventurine had eliminated skill-ups for things like Swimming and Sprinting but it still existed for things like combat swings.  Since this was "on use" skill-ups, you absolutely could still "blood wall' with another player for easy gains.

Aventurine further mitigated the macro problem by reducing the grind.  Since the number of skills needed to max was reduced and the speed at which those skills level was increased -- such macro'ing was believed to only provide a short-term gain and casuals could eventually catch up with normal play.

They also introduced a new system called Prowess.  As you completed certain things, you gained Prowess.  This Prowess could be used to buy things like a "booster" which increased your stats for your class.  Maximizing your character progression in the early beta took a combination of Prowess and skill-ups.

Feedback was VERY positive on the Prowess system but continued to be very negative regarding the ability to continue to be able to macro and blood wall.  It was suggested in the beta forums that this Prowess system be the primary method of developing your character -- not the old skill-up "on use" system from DF1.

The new Prowess system in Darkfall Unholy Wars (DF:UW)
And Aventurine listened. Based on the beta feedback, they revised the whole system to be entirely based on Prowess rather than the old DF1 system of skill-ups based "on use" of that particular skill.  In that one act, they completely eliminated the macro'ing problem from DF1.  This was a big change and in fairness to AV, a big contributing factor to why the beta lasted as long as it did.  

Under the new system, you must "earn" Prowess by completing meaningful actions (harvesting, crafting, killing creatures, and completing feats).  These points, once earned, can be used to purchase your skill (or stat) gains.

Unlike Syncaine, I don't think it's a brand new idea. The feats, in particular, bear a striking resemblance to Achievements and even Quests.  You can argue how it's different until you are blue in the face but it doesn't change the fact that attempting to kill X creatures feels exactly the same.  Likewise, we have seen point allocation systems in other games.  I am reminded or the Renown Points in Warhammer Online and how they  are used to buy Renown Rewards to increase Strength and Weapon skill from the trainer.  

That said, I think what is perhaps unique about this progression system is the depth to which it is implemented throughout the game.  It's also a very tidy "sandboxy" solution to a significant problem.

My biggest criticism about the new system is that I felt the progression went, ironically, too quickly.  In turns out that some of my concern may have been related to circumstances that only existed in beta.  Specfically, for much of the beta, "resistances" were not in on the creatures so they effectively were wearing no armor.  Shortly before end of beta, all the resistances went back in -- and the difficulty level scaled up as a result.

So -- progression will be slower as a result.  How slow?  That's hard to say and it may still be too fast.  But almost assuredly, players will speed past whatever expectations Aventurine has on the progression.  As I said at the top of the blog post, in a PvP centric game like Darkfall - the dial doesn't get any higher in the "race" for progression.  

Let the Prowess race begin.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Darkfall Unholy Wars: The myth behind the polarizing labels

If you have read my blog or comments on other blogs over the years, one of the things I despise is how often MMO pundits toss out "labels" on games.  I prefer to think the actual truth of a game lies within the features that comprise that game and not some "label" that is tossed out to force a game into some box.

Darkfall: Unholy Wars is a prime example of labels in action.  It will be described as both a "sandbox" game and as a "hardcore pvp" game.  As such, it will be compared to EvE ad nauseum and success or failure, you'll hear all about why people don't want a "hardcore pvp" game.

Bullshit. Darkfall is no more like EvE than it's like WoW.  

The similarity between EvE and Darkfall can be summed up in the following way - these are games without a story. That's it.

Even here, both games take a radically different approach. EvE is largely about empire building and actual PvP is very rare. In many ways, PvE and crafting is more central to the EvE universe and the game has more in-common with Minecraft than Darkfall.

In Darkfall, the game centers around the PvP. Crafting, as it exists, serves only to create a value of sorts for the zero-sum PvP.  Darkfall is not an empire building game any more than it's a PvE raiding game.  

Darkfall is a fast-paced shooter style MMO with a focus on controlling specific bind points through PvP.  In other words, it's a conquest game that has as much in common with a persistent world-wide version of Arathi Basin as it does with EvE's sandbox game.

In other words, start with elements of EvE (city building) and elements of the classic control-point scenario (like Arathi Basin).  Mix them all up and put them in a large persistent world.  Then throw in some first-person style arcade combat and zero-sum PvP.  That's Darkfall.

If DF:UW fails, the reasons will have nothing to do with so-called "hardcore PvP"

Wait, you say, EvE also has zero-sum PvP.  Umm, kinda.  

There is loss in EvE, for sure, but it's not zero-sum (which means winner-takes-all).  It's a winner-take-some scenario because some items are destroyed.  Also, it's relatively rare.  The loss is something to be feared and protected against.

In Darkfall, PvP truly is a zero-sum game. Often labeled as "hardcore PvP" what most people don't understand about such PvP is that because it's zero-sum, it's just as possible to GAIN as it is to LOSE.

Zero-sum, by definition, means that if one person loses 10 gold, then another person gains 10 gold.  The problem with the original Darkfall was not the zero-sum PvP, it was that there was such a vast gap between the veteran and the new player that the new player was always the one to lose the 10 gold.

This is an important distinction because it's not zero-sum PvP that poses the problem but the relative balance between players that leaves one player at a significant advantage.  A problem that has since been corrected in Unholy Wars.  New players can and will become viable in PvP very quickly.

The myths of zero-sum PvP

The biggest misconception about zero-sum PvP is that there is this monumental loss when you lose your items. In other games, gear progression is an important form of character progression and it's not uncommon to spend weeks and weeks to try and get that one key drop.

There are no make or break drops in Darkfall.  Ever single usable item can be crafted and farming for those items is no more of a time sink than harvesting some mats for your typical crafting profession.  In fact, most of the "time sink" comes from leveling the skill to craft the item and not the harvested mats.

Instead, you see a different dynamic that is based on people managing their own level of risk. You don't always go out in your best gear.  You save that for the special events.  And sometimes, you wear bad gear on purpose because you don't want to take the durability hit on higher cost items.

It's a game of easy come and easy go. Everyone loses gear and the game is designed in such a way that individual losses are not monumental.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

NDA Lifted: Beta Tester impressions of Darkfall Unholy Wars

AV lifted the NDA this morning on Darkfall: Unholy Wars and the release date is set for April 16th.  You
can expect me to be posting a lot more actively now that I can speak freely about the game I have been beta testing for 5 months.

Yes, a 5 month beta.  Normally in these types of posts you get "first impressions" of a game.  My first impressions were gone many many months ago.  To put this in perspective, I played the original DF1 for 3 months so my "beta" experience with Unholy Wars is already 2 months longer than the original game.

It was a long beta and Tasos had one ask as he lifted the NDA: to comment on the game as it exists today and not on issues that were addressed earlier in beta.  I think that's a very fair request.

The first month will be incredible.
The second month may start to stall.  And by the third month, they better have something new or anyone without a strong vision for the game is going to lose interest.

In other words, par for the course with every other MMO that has launched in the last billion years.  That said, I'll make a caveat -- that first month will be worth the price of the game.  If you like PvP, it's going to be fun times and worthwhile.

Also, it's worth pointing out that interest isn't going to start waning immediately and mileage will vary depending on how actively you play.  Also, there are pieces expected at launch (dungeons, in particular) that could be introduced to keep players interested longer than I'm anticipating.

Not enough sand in the sandbox...
The problem, in a nutshell, has nothing to do with the "hardcore" nature of this game. I'll speak to this in a future post but this is mostly a red herring thrown out there by people who would never truly enjoy a game like Darkfall.

The problem lies in that progression is very fast for "characters" and mind-numblingly slow for everything else. This is incredibly ironic if you were at all familiar with the original Darkfall, but the net of the problem is this..

In these types of conquest games, players need things to do when they aren't out conquesting. Right now, the potential problem is that there simply isn't enough interesting things "to do" when not sieging to keep people logged in.

This isn't inherently obvious to someone who hasn't spent a lot of time in the latest beta round that introduced the new "prowess" system for character advancement. All due respects to Syncaine and his opinions, but I'm fairly confident that I have logged 4-5 times the hours he has in this latest beta (having played it full-time).

For many players, the biggest "thing to do" draw is improvement to become more viable at PvP.  Early game, the new prowess system is going to be a big draw and feel very rewarding.  It's also going to create a lot of competition for important mob spawns. This is going to make for some fantastic PvP and a real sense of accomplishment during the first month.

And then that will end.  Around 100k prowess, there will be an effective prowess cap for your role that means you'll gain very little benefit for further character improvement.   In other words, you will still have choices but the level of effort required will likely not be worth the gain.  [EDIT: To be clear, I'm not implying this is "grindy" -- I'm saying you are effectively almost "maxxed" within that role for the purposes of PvP.]

There are still other choices, of course, what gear to wear, what to siege, and so forth but the main motivating force that keeps people logged in will be minimized.  That's a problem.  Because in order for you to have PvP, you need to have people.

A game of conquest!
The counter-argument you will hear is that Darkfall is about conquest, sieges and crafting.  Crafting, in it's current state, lacks the "bones" in which to build a strong economy.  That's the backbone of EvE, but it's not the backbone of Unholy Wars and needs considerable work if that's the intent.

On sieges, I absolutely agree and these are extremely fun.  That's not the issue.  The issue is -- players will log on for a siege -- then log off once it's over.  Any "spontaneous" PvP will be virtually non-existant and largely consist of 15 bored guys rolling into a city that has 2-3 semi-AFK harvesters.

And to be clear, PvP is the goal.  The content that needs to be added should drive PvP and come in the form of "hotspots" that bring people together for a fight.  My criticism here is something needs to be added that is rewarding in such a way that people will congregate in areas that will allow PvP to flourish.

On Aventurine...
I want to comment briefly on AV.  It's obvious this isn't a big budget company and I admire what they are able to accomplish with limited resources.  It requires a different approach, one that is more iterative in that pieces of the puzzle are slowly added into the mix.

You do need to be comfortable with the idea that the game will always be a work-in-progress. That's true of all MMOs but particularly true here where the budgets are small.  This approach does work and I do think it results in a better game but it requires patience from players which is often in short supply.

Fortunately, I do have patience and do believe in the vision.  It's a fun game and I do plan to continue playing many months after launch.  But I'm also not most people..

And thus, my prediction that unless something new is introduced (which is possible) players are going to hit the same "lack of content" wall that they hit with every other game.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Group Lurkers: The silent MMO majority

Call it "cracking the code" but I think I understand what the "masses" really want out of an MMO.  They want what I would call Group Lurking.  

Players want to be grouped and play with others — this is why they are playing online — but they don't always want the convention of interacting socially with others. In other words, they want the interaction and benefits of grouping without actually having to invest in interacting.

In almost every online community, the vast majority of people are lurkers.  Why would we assume this is different in MMOs?  While that may seem illogical, all evidence seems to point towards this being true even in MMO communities.  The "silent majority" want to group but they also want to remain silent. 

Voice chat / communications
To find your first group of lurkers, look no further than the voice comms of your clan or guild.  How many of the people in your comms don't talk?  In every guild, the "talkers" are usually limited to maybe 8-10 really active speakers and everyone else stays quiet.

Are you the one lurking?  Then you already know the reasons why you don't speak up. There could be a 1000 reasons.  The point is.. you want to participate but you are perfectly happy not participating as much as the guys doing all the talking.

But this is only one type of "lurker" and lurking isn't always black/white.  For example, on the other extreme we have ...

The "solo" grouper
People who write about MMOs often mistake lurkers as wanting to play a "solo" game. This is a gross oversimplification and untrue.  Why play an MMO at all if you don't want a shared world with others?

Simply look at some of the most widely praised features among casual gamers as evidence: party finders, scenarios & battlegrounds, public quests, and really anything that facilitates a "group" forming automatically which has a relatively short duration.  Remember how much "open groups" and "public quests" were praised for Warhammer Online?

That's what this group wants -- they want to group, they just don't have the real-life time to invest more than 30-90 minute chunks of time.  Any feature that facilitates this type of player's ability to group is appreciated.  And just because they want to group for a bit, doesn't mean they want to invest in making long-term friends.

Cracking the Code: How to retain your players
I would posit the theory that these "group lurkers" want to be led by others.  The easier a game makes it for these "group lurkers" to be led, the better the chance that the game will succeed and retain players.

The most vocal people in “vent” are the guys who do the leading. An important group, to be sure, but not the silent majority.  In sandboxes, the quiet ones are the lurker slaves quietly farming all the resources to build your battleship/city/whatever.  In theme parks, they are the 15 silent guys making up 60% of your 25-man raid group. These players are the heart-and-soul of an MMO's success.

At it's core, I think this is what most games lack to be successful in the long-term.  Sure, they need content.  Sure, they need to be fun.  Sure, a good IP helps.  But at the core, online gaming is about interacting with others.  The easier and more important this becomes, the more successful the MMO will be at retaining players.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Balancing the Archtypes

Darkfall: Unholy Wars may still be under NDA, but that doesn't meant that there aren't topics out there that can be discussed which are public.

From the DF: Unholy Wars FAQ:

What are the classes in Darkfall Unholy Wars?

Darkfall Unholy Wars does not utilize classes in the traditional sense rather, you select a role and specify two schools to focus on within that role. Roles and Schools are not set in stone and you can change between them to suit your play-style or current situation. 

Without going into the specifics of the available Roles and Schools, one major change from the original Darkfall is that players need to select a very clearly defined Role or Archtype.  This selection, while not permanent, does mean that your "current situation" must be played as this Archtype.

While hardly a unique idea, this change marks a significant deviation from the original Darkfall which allowed players to advance multiple skills and shift from play-style to play-style while mid-combat.  Watch a DF1 video and you'll see players switch from Melee to Spells and back to Melee again in mere heartbeats.

I don't think it comes as much of a shocker that with such changes, the same class warfare type forum arguing erupts over game balance.  Again, I'm not going to speak to specifics but as with every game -- such class warfare inevitable leads to the type of forum bickering I despise most in games.

Not all Archtypes are created equal
The reality of class balance is that it's incredibly difficult to balance and it often evolves over time as players become better and/or find optimum skill usage.

Tank Archtype:  In PvP, this is by far the most forgiving Archtype because by definition, it has the most survivability.  Played poorly, a Tank can still survive and the golden rule in PvP is that you don't do any damage while dead.  This means that even a bad player can still be effective and helpful (a notion that gnaws at many players).  Typically balanced with sub-par damage and lack of range, making the Tank type too effective at dealing damage can easily make this the most OP class. By contrast, not enough damage, and good players are rendered as ineffectual as the poor players that are surviving right along-side them.

Glass Cannon Archtype:   In my opinion, the glass cannon is the most difficult Archtype to balance by a wide margin.  By definition, the cannon must do tremendous damage and be weak enough to kill quickly.  Played poorly, the Glass Cannon is easily killed.  Played well, the Glass Cannon can be un-killable even by equally skilled players.  So, do you balance for the weak or strong players?  If you balance for the strong, you'll hear no end of complaints from the weak Cannons who keep dying.  If you balance for the weak, every elite player will play a Cannon and dominate the game.

Healer Archtype:  If, like me, you think the golden rule in PvP is that you don't do damage while your dead -- then healing is the trump card. A great healer not only keeps himself alive but everyone around him. As a result, they have a huge bullseye painted on them. A tough class to balance solo because they are usually balanced on the idea that others do the damage while they do the healing. If you make them too effective at damage and healing, then the best scenario includes everyone playing Healers.

Complicating things even more is that the nature of these Archtypes tends to lend itself naturally to a sort of rock-paper-scissors thing.  Where, Tanks beat Cannons, Cannons beat Healers, and Healers beat Tanks.

Archtypes vs Homogeneity
All that said, I like having the Archtypes in games.  It provides a diversity that is fun.  Sure there are balance issues that are always evolving and need constant attention but that doesn't make it impossible.

The original "sandbox" game was Dungeons & Dragons.  Not the MMO -- the original Pen & Paper game that you played with your imagination.  And there was a reason that you started by rolling up your class and following the game rules for that class.  It provided a sense of self for who you were in the game.

The alternative is homogeneity, or uniformity, between all players. Oh sure, there are systems you could develop that limit certain things by your equipment and such but it's not quite the same as "playing a mage". :)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Polarizing MMO Rhetoric: Oh how I missed you!

A typical MMO discussion
After a two year hiatus from blogging, it's good to see that the same old polarizing MMO rhetoric is still out in full force.  We still have our rollercoasters, our themeparks, our sandboxes, our "hard-core pvp" crowd, our WoW care-bears, and so on..

And of course, we have our good old-fashioned commenters:

"When will people figure out no one likes PvP"
"Blame the WoW tourists" or alternately "Go back to WoW"
"Then why is EvE successful?"
"It's not 1999 any longer, people don't grind"

PvP Political Compass
Several years ago I wrote a post about what I called the PvP Political Compass.  The basic idea was that PvP in "games" is not as straight-forward or simple as "hardcore pvp" versus battlegrounds.

It's more of a graduated scale with grouping on one axis and "impact" on the other.

As I return to blogging, I am reminded of how polarized the MMO gaming community is on so many topics.

The part I find interesting here is that I believe you can create a similar "compass" for MMO features in general.  The reality is that there is no standard definition for what people like in games.

For example, all RPGs have a certain amount of "sandbox" to them simply by virtue of allowing players to make decisions about character development.  Whereas,  a very linear game like Halo is on the very far extreme with your options limited to such things as: should I drive a Warthog or a Ghost?

By no means am I calling all MMOs a sandbox, I am simply pointing out that a game -- any game -- need not be defined by the box we try to put those games in.  And yet, the fascinating part is that people who write about MMOs or follow the games work so hard to create these boxes.

It reminds me of real-life politics.  No matter your country, there are political groups which form to try and represent large bodies of people.  Very rarely do individuals agree with every single thing the group stands for -- often they only agree with some core philosophical principles -- but they'll defend that group and anyone who questions it (even parts they don't totally agree with) in fierce and often heated arguments.

The truth, if there is one, often lies somewhere blurred in the middle.  More often, there is no truth at all -- just opinion. I always find this willful blindness by the public to be infuriating.  It creates apathy.  So many people don't like the status quo but are so concerned that the other side will "win" if they give any concessions that they willingly bring the whole process to a stalemate.

The straights aren't so dire with MMOs and we all have the power to vote with our wallets. And yet, we still keep trying to put games in boxes and point fingers and blame when they fail...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Unholy Beta

After my triumphant return announcement, I expected to be more actively posting some thoughts on Darkfall Unholy Wars.  Thing is... NDA is still up and the beta has lasted FAR FAR longer than I ever would have expected.

What I find interesting about betas is that different people play them for different reasons.  Some people want to contribute suggestions for improvement.  Some people want to get an "early edge" so that when release happens they have a head start.  Others just want to play the game.

No matter what your reason for playing the beta, one factor always plays in everyone's mind: will I play this game for long on release?

That's the unfortunate side effect of a beta -- people can't help but judge an incomplete and unfinished product through the lens of what they expect at release.

The part I wonder about is how badly a game is hurt by an unexpectedly long beta.  Personally, I can't think of a single instance where interest  "increased" during an extended beta phase.

I'll let you draw your own conclusions about how this relates back to the DF:UW beta, but I don't think it's breaking NDA to say that the longer an extended beta lasts, the more likely interest is going to start to wane.

Excitement can easily turn into bitterness, particularly when a concrete release date isn't known and players stop wanting to invest time in a game where character progression lacks permanence.

For myself, I like the game and I "do" plan to play it at release.