Posts Tagged "Game Design"

When a Build Choice is Not Really a Choice

Posted by on Jul 18, 2015 in reviews | Comments Off on When a Build Choice is Not Really a Choice

When a Build Choice is Not Really a Choice

One of the blogs I follow is For The Record (FTR), which is run by a gamer named SilentStalker (SS) who covers World of Tanks (WoT) news.

SS recently posted his take on Elder Scrolls Online (ESO). There were a few things that he wrote that stood out to me.

EDIT (2014/05/13): for full disclosure, I haven’t played ESO yet. What I find fascinating and confusing is that in the comments and tweets about this article, some players agree with SS, others claim he’s wrong.

Multiclasses (“Hybrids”) Aren’t Viable

Per SS:

First, multiclasses don’t work. If you want to be a two-handed-sword-wielding holy knight in plate armor who also heals, you will suck at both roles.

It sounds like you have to specialize heavily.

The word “hybrid” carries a negative connotation for some MMORPG players, but I believe hybrids should be viable for some contexts, e.g. solo or small group PVE and PVP. Hybrids add depth to the variety of builds available to the players of a class and flavor to a game. Obviously for hardcore PVE raiding, specialization tends to be the way to go.

SS said holy knights who heal are not viable, and that’s a shame as I’ve played some incredibly fun holy knight builds in other games, e.g.:

Prot Pally in WoW PVP: Back at the start of WoW Cataclysm, the vast majority of the Paladin community claimed that Prot (Protection) PVP was dead. My projection on the mechanics was that Prot would still be viable, if not as strong as it was in WotLK. My Prot PVP spec was 75% DPS (with some solid burst) and 50% Healing relative to specialist classes. It was neither a pure DPS nor a pure healer, but it could heal meaningfully when needed to bridge my team mates to the next incoming heal and other emergency cooldowns. I played with other relatively inexperienced (but skilled) partners and we got to 2k in the 2v2 and 3v3 brackets playing hybrids
M*A*S*H Cleric in RIFT PVP: this was a steady DPS build (no meaningful burst whatsoever) that was tanky, output solid sustained AOE healing, had good mobility, and possessed some CC. What was funny about the M*A*S*H build was that the Cleric community was convinced that melee healing wasn’t viable, but I found they hadn’t explored the mechanics enough :)
If SS is right, there is no opportunity to come up with non-specialized builds. Which brings us to the next point…

Melee Mages and Berserker Warriors Aren’t Viable Either

Per SS:

Oh, almost forgot. You have to pick also “reasonable” configurations. For example, warrior in clothes (light armor, leathers are medium armor) and a 2 hander won’t work. Light armor as a whole adds bonuses to magic regeneration, more mana etc., so you can theoretically have a plate armor mage, but he will run out of mana very, very fast.

I recall hearing last year that plate mages would be viable. However if the armor types have built-in biases for specific classes or builds, what the developer is effectively delivering is a choice that is not really a choice. You can choose to gimp yourself, or you can choose a build that synergizes with the gear options.

There are many ways that a game can balance plate armor for mages, e.g. off the top of my head:

Plate armor limits the range of magic abilities
Plate armor limits the usage of magic movement abilities, such as blink
Same goes for a warrior wearing in light armor, e.g. a Braavosi swordmaster from Game of Thrones. The warrior could sacrifice damage mitigation / avoidance, but gain faster attacks and gap-closing abilities. Water Dance FTW.

I have not played ESO, and based on your collective feedback to me I do not intend to. So maybe SS got the points above wrong – but if he was right, yikes.

My hope for future games, e.g. Camelot Unchained (CU), is that the developers get it right. I think choice of armor for each class would allow for much more diversity and customization by the player – the tradeoffs just need to be thought through. Some upcoming titles, such as ArcheAge, do support such choice:

With the mixing and matching of classes, you can also mix and match equipment. There’s nothing stopping a mage from wearing plate armor, or a warrior tank from wearing cloth! There are different stats for cloth, leather, and plate armor – and each armor type has different set bonuses – so pick the armor that best suits your play style.


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WildStar (Finally) Going F2P

Posted by on Jul 18, 2015 in guides | Comments Off on WildStar (Finally) Going F2P

Two notable MMORPGs launched in 2014 with subscription models: Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) and WildStar. Four months ago, Bethesda Softworks announced that ESO was going B2P (buy-to-play). Today, Carbine announced that WildStar is going F2P (free-to-play).

For whatever reason, game developers have been painfully slow on the uptake that gamers do not like subscription MMORPGs. The only sub-based MMORPG that has been able to maintain a meaningful playerbase is World of Warcraft (WoW).

WoW is in the unique position of having a huge amount of polished content and a huge community, which are barriers to exit for existing players. That is, players have invested so much into WoW and their characters / guilds / community that they stick around, even though that requires a subscription. As I’ve said previously, even Blizzard would struggle to replicate the success of WoW in a new subscription-based MMO, and Blizzard has pursued non-subscription models for their recent new releases.

Customer expectations have shifted. Gone are the days where subscriptions were the norm, and the question for gamers wasn’t whether they had to pay, but rather which MMOs they wanted to play and therefore had to pay for via a subscription. In today’s environment, a subscription fee is a monthly reminder to a paying customer to question where the product is providing sufficient value. Moreover, the perception that F2P games are inferior quality has diminished over time. This isn’t to say that there aren’t poor F2P implementations out there – there most certainly are – but over time developers are figuring out F2P systems that work for non-paying and paying customers.

The online gaming community has the reputation of being fickle, and gamers will not continue to pay a subscription if they perceive any or multiple of the following to be true:

The game is not meeting their (pre-launch) expectations
The game is buggy / not polished
There isn’t a critical mass of their friends or other players in the game – the world feels lonely. This was the reason I unsubbed from WildStar
There’s a shiny new game coming out soon
They’ve already experienced the content and are bored
About that last point, subscription-based MMORPGs have an inherent flaw in the business model: the cost and time it takes to produce new content are always going to be meaningfully higher than the amount of time it takes for players to consume this content, and gamers have the expectation that they’ll receive a steady stream of new content with their subscription. Developers have contributed to setting this expectation, e.g. here is what WildStar’s Executive Produer Jeremy Gaffney said (bold emphasis mine):

“There’s two major options to play,” he said. “One is super simple: buy a box, and pay a subscription. There’s a class of player that likes that, because they know how much they’re paying, they know the playing field is level, and they can expect big updates. That’s the joy of the subscription model.”

On top of this, Gaffney set the expectation that the cadence of patches would be monthly. Later, Carbine shifted to a quarterly schedule.

Simply put, pushing out polished new content on a regular cadence is very challenging. Therefore for years I’ve stated that developers need to develop highly-engaging replayable content – players don’t necessarily need a big world, but they need a world that’s fun to play in, even if it’s small. Think about MOBAs – players play in the same maps / scenarios over and over, and the content is simply the champions or heroes that they can choose to play. Or think about Minecraft, where the developer created the context but the players shape and define the world. Another good example of replayable content is WvW in GW2. Many gamers would love to have a huge, dynamic world to play in – I would too! – but the economic reality is that isn’t sustainable for developers.

The other flaw with subscription-based games, which Mike Donatelli acknowledged to PC Gamer, is that it creates a significant barrier to entry. I do believe that B2P (buy-to-play) games are a nice balance for the developer and the gamer to help the developer recoup their pre-launch investment, but B2P games are only viable for well-established IPs such as Guild Wars or Elder Scrolls. So for any new IP (e.g. WildStar), there really isn’t any model to consider aside from F2P. The question then becomes how to implement a F2P system that creates a sticky, non-onerous experience for non-paying customers but incents players to spend real money. Wargaming has done a tremendous job with their F2P system in World of Tanks (WoT), and WoT has one of the highest ARPU for F2P games.

Hopefully 2015 is the last year that we’ll hear of new MMOs with subscription models, which is still 4 years too late.

EDIT #1 (2015/05/28): some folks are pointing out that FFXIV is subscription-based. Yes, that is true, but remember, Final Fantasy is an IP that is almost 3 decades old. You can charge a sub when you have a very established IP because you have an existing large fan base. IMO a new game without a well-established IP will flop if it launches with a subscription model.

EDIT #2 (2015/05/29): so y’all understand, I am 100% fine with paying a subscription. Happy to do so. The problem is, a lot of people aren’t, and when those people leave in sufficient numbers, the game world feels empty, and that inevitably impacts me.

The thing I really care about is that games succeed, because that will drive further investment into new games, which means more choices for us as consumers/gamers. The reality is that subscriptions don’t work in today’s market for the majority of cases. I’m not anti-sub, but I am most definitely anti-game-fail, and my fear starting back in 2010 is that investment will shift from richly-complex PC games to superficial tablet and mobile games the more that PC-based MMOs flop. Over 3 years ago I wrote that business models for MMORPGs must evolve. The industry has been slow to realize this.

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