Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling reports from the front lines* of the Massively Multiplayer Multiverse.

Friday, August 31, 2012

QOTD: GW2 vs. TSW

Yesterday, the venerable Tobold Stoutfoot held forth on why Guild Wars 2 is a better game than The Secret World. After quoting Bronte:
... the ugly truth is self-evident: The Secret World has failed to garner the following that it frankly deserved.
Tobold has this to say:
I'm baffled. How exactly does a game "deserve" a following?
The same way a high quality, but poorly performing television show "deserves" a larger following, Meneer Stoutfoot. Shows like Firefly, Fringe, and even Star Trek never garnered the following they deserved (note these are all Sci-Fi shows) and were canceled. (OK, Fringe is on for another 13 episodes, so it can have a 100-ep. syndication package.) Is that a reflection on their quality? I say no, it is a reflection on their marketability. Shows like Survivor, American Idol, and Keeping Up With the Kardashians are not better simply because they have huge ratings. Why make the same assumption about video games based on sales figures?

My good friend, Victor Stillwater, chimes in on Tobold's comments with my actual Quote of the Day:
I like vacuums, they suck, kind of like the argument that GW2 is better than TSW simply because it sold more... because that argument assumes that all of mankind lives in some kind of non-complex vacuum of ignorance and disconnect about a variety of issues...
Tobold's unwavering faith in Homo economicus is sadly misplaced, I fear. As much as I love Economics, not every model in the Dismal Science is equally valid. Sure, in theory, everyone acts rationally given the information available to them. However, in practice, people are not necessarily given all the information required to make a good choice. And especially in relation to art and entertainment, personal preference is highly subjective, as are the choices people make. For instance, you see far more people flocking to a rock concert than to an opera or symphony, despite similar costs. But you'd be hard pressed to say that rock and roll is better than classical music, and frankly, the converse is true, as well.

There is, of course, a certain hauteur in claiming that one's own preference is superior because it is the road less traveled. Opera goers can pat themselves on the back at their refined tastes, while the rabble attend that rock concert; both groups forgetting all the while that at its inception, opera was the rock concert—the popular music of the time. And like classic rock from our youth vs. the "noise" of today, we only remember the good songs, having forgotten the forgettable.

Is GW2 better than TSW? They're different in many ways, but alike in some key ones. TSW is definitely more niche (not a four-letter word), just as the horror and sci-fi genres are of limited appeal to readers and TV watchers. I like them both. I like that TSW doesn't treat me like a child. Ragnar Tornquist and his dev team expect more of me as a player. That creates an extra investment in some but is a turn-off for others.

GW2 is more relaxing. I jump in and find something to do. I can explore, do a DE or a heart quest, toss a keg in PvP, whatever. I don't log in to a laundry list of quests driving me to achieve. I like that, too. And it's bright and cheery.

I like playing both GW2 and TSW. They are my current main games. Economics could be termed Choice-ology, since it is the study of the choices we make in the face of scarcity. Given my scarcity of time and resources, I am choosing to forgo Mists of Pandaria.

So let me end with one last quote, this one from Tim, another commenter on Tobold's post:
There are enough gamers out there with different tastes that we ought to be applauding the development of niche games, not reinforcing the fallacious notion that There Can Be Only One MMO.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

To Blog or Not to Blog

Sometimes I wonder if I should just pack it up. I get tired of the hype and anti-hype surrounding this gaming community. Even among people I really enjoy talking to here and on Twitter or G+, the debates seem to endlessly rage. This, on top of the fact that I don't to have more than a few serious followers (I love you guys). It's a bit of a blow to the ego to realize that after two years of doing this, I'm still penny-ante.

But I wonder if I could stop. This is my little corner of the Internet, where I can rant about anything (game related) or exult in the pure fun of a game. I just don't know. I guess I'm fishing for a little encouragement this August morning.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fanbois and Haters, or Shut the Hell Up Already.

I'm caught between writing a potentially inflammatory post, trolling the entire internet and making neither the Guild Wars 2 zealots nor the game's detractors very happy OR writing a shiny happy post about how much much fun I've been having in Tyria, with only pesky interruptions like my job and my need for sleep to stop me. I think I shall troll. If I ramble a bit, welcome to Sctrz' world.

Let's start with making a few people mad. Kleps thinks we should stop apologizing for GW2 or any other MMO that comes out. I agree, because I don't think there is anything to apologize for. As I said in my comment on his blog, Guild Wars officially launched yesterday with no login issues that I am aware of. Oh, that stuff on Saturday? I found something else to do. Actually, I had a very lively conversation with a guildie from across the pond while surfing the net. There are worse ways to spend a Saturday morning, though I probably should have gotten up and mowed the lawn. The people who got their noses bent out of shape because they couldn't play need to grow up.

STRESS?

I wonder if reactions would have been different if ANet had said, "Hey, we're having one last stress test, but won't be wiping characters again before launch." Probably everyone who was eligible would have tried to log in to get a "head start," so to speak, but if/when the servers went down they wouldn't have had much to complain about. After all, it would have been billed as a test. Of course, it was billed as a perk for pre-purchasing; therefore, people feel entitled (not incorrectly) to get what they paid for. Now, ANet is having issues with groups being separated across overflow servers, etc. This is annoying, but in the meantime there are things to do that can be done solo. They'll get that stuff fixed.

Should MMOs launch with bugs and potential network issues? Of course not. Cars should be designed without any flaws either, but you're a fool if you expect the first year a brand new model design comes out not to mechanical bugs. The same goes for MMOs. If you're going to whinge about access outages, better to wait until the weekend AFTER the launch so major kinks can be worked out before you have to waste your precious time playing solitaire, or—heaven forbid—getting outside for some exercise and fresh air.

I'm not talking here about reasonable critiques of why you don't like a game. I'm talking about the "OMG death of the genre EPIC FAIL! Whaaaaaa!" types of reactions to games. 

Meanwhile, the fanbois and zealous devotees are seeing every critique of Guild Wars 2, whether it be about the outages and bugs or actual design features, as personal attacks on them. And they respond in kind, crying that the Great Gospel of Guild Wars is unassailable, and the rest of us just don't get it and need to shut the hell up. Some of this is from from people playing TSW, all the while whinging about their struggles in Kingsmouth of all places, when they won't listen to direct advice about synergizing weapons and active/passive abilities.

Don't You Get It?

I bring up TSW because it's another game where people (including myself) talk about "getting it." Although the TSW fans seem to be a lot more pragmatic about whether others like the game or not, much to Funcom's dismay, I am sure. There a certain stench of self-superiority in the phrase "you just don't get it," regardless if the speaker is adamant or or blasé about whether you should or not.

One of my favorite comebacks when I don't laugh at someone's joke, and they say I must not have gotten it: "Oh I got it, it just wasn't funny." Players of both TSW and especially GW2 need to realize that it's not a matter getting it but whether the game is fun for the individual or not. It doesn't even matter whether the game is well-designed or not. What matters is the number of people who are HAVING FUN playing the game. If you're not having fun, it's not because the game is bad. It's because it doesn't fit your definition of fun.

Complaining about conversation wheels, or trinities, or dynamic events, or pandas or whatever, is like complaining that football doesn't have bats or that there are no pedals in a row boat. You can say you don't like a game and why. But recognize that is more a reflection of you than it is of any intrinsic quality of the game.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Postcards From the Edge . . . of Tyria

OK so—I could go into depth about the awesome time I had playing Guild Wars 2 this weekend. I've ended up in a great meta-guild with Mercy Gaming (my SWTOR guild), and it's a blast to roll with a good krewe (or warband). Of course, there are bugs, and the occasional outage, but that's par for the course with a launch this big. The folks at ArenaNet are doing a great job, working doggedly to make sure we have the best possible experience.

I may have more commentary later in a review, but for now, enjoy some unaltered screenshots and briefs intros of my toons:

My Human Engineer, Heide Uhrmacher (right).
My Sylvari Ranger, Ruadhán Madarch (right).
I wouldn't consider her my Main, but her name is pronounced Roowan.
My Charr Guardian, Kale Knightfury, during the pirate treasure jumping puzzle.
Kale again, without the UI
Kale, ready to jump off the high dive in Lion's Arch.
Kale with his boss. Unlike mine, this boss is an ass.
Tró̱go̱n Thanátou, my Asura Necromancer. Extra points if you can tell me what his name means.
Captain Mor—OK, it's Heide again.
Some ruins of Ascalon in the Black Citadel. I love the misty, painterly look.
More ruins.
Knights of Mercy at the end of an evening pirate treasure run. Special thanks to Althis Megas, a non-guilded player who went above and beyond helping stragglers through a tough jumping puzzle in a dark cavern.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pics of the Day: My Little Necromancer

MMOGC shared her Asura last night, and inspired me to get pics of my little guy out there. I'm still coming up with a good name—and it won't be my main—but I definitely will role an Asura Necromancer come Saturday.


Ready for action!

Friday, August 17, 2012

From Corellia With Love

I do like the new coat.
Sctrz and I finished out the stories on Chicco (Chico!) and Versteckt on Tuesday. I also picked up this snazzy new jacket from the Corellia commendations vendor, giving the long coat I'd been wearing since the Black Talon to Ensign Temple. So many of the outfits available to the Agent were basically the Imperial Navy uniforms from the movies; which I never understood, given how much of the story I was supposed to be under cover. I really like this top, and the way the match-to-chest made my outfit look. Too bad it was the last two days of my time in-game.
The whole gang together, one last time.
This will be the last time for a while, that I deal with SWTOR, since I canceled my subscription effective yesterday. We pushed a bit to get to 50 and finish our stories before I did. The Secret World has been taking more of my interest, and the Guild Wars 2 headstart is on the horizon. I still enjoy myself when playing, but it is no longer compelling. There it's fun to play through the stories, but in so many ways they are not my characters' stories, they are what the BioWare writers came up with. I encountered spoilers a couple times, too, which dampened or nullified the impact of the story. That was my own fault I suppose.

IMPERIAL AGENT SPOILER!
I gotta say, my favorite part of the climax (maybe the whole story) was when Versteckt shrugged off the torture and kicked serious ass. I love it every time it happens in a movie that a hero surprises a villain with an extra-strength can of whoopass. It's one reason I love Black Widow in Avengers.
END SPOILER!

Honestly, and there will be people who are critical of my position, much of what dampened my enthusiasm for SWTOR was external to the game itself: the way BioWare and EA failed to understand how to run an MMO, how to relate to the players. The clumsily handled free-month giveaway to "valued players"; the forced mergers that were painted as anything but; the inflexible Legacy system that did little to encourage having an actual Legacy, the inept handling of an unjustified player ban; actions that caused whole guilds to evaporate (to highlight: Beskar was a guild for about 5 times longer before launch than after, as far as I can tell). I had better stop before I really start ranting.
Maybe when the smoke clears.
The sad thing is the game is good. I like it. But it could have been great and wasn't. I'll be back when SWTOR goes Free-to-Play in November, to see the other stories. But I know now that they won't really be my stories.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Lovely Bride

In the comments on yesterday's post, which contains the gamer survey Sctrz and I composed, Chris brought up a pet peeve of his. He doesn't like it when men refer to to their spouses as "brides." While he can of course further clarify if he desires, I think the gist of his point is this, "[S]he no doubt deserves to be more than 'a bride.'" I certainly respect Chris and his opinion, but let me tell you why I refer to Sctrz as "my lovely bride."
A weighty reminder of my commitment to my bride.
In our American culture and others (without going into the current politics of marriage), the Bride is at the center of the wedding. On that day, more than any other, she is a princess, and the focus of everyone there. Even the Groom is already a fixture in the ceremonial hall when the Bride makes her grand entrance. Plus, the full term is "bridegroom," he is there to attend to her.

When I was younger, and attended church with far more regularity than I do now, a leader gave a sermon in which he explained why he still referred to his wife of many years as his bride. It reminded him of the promises they made to each other on that special day so long ago. And it also let her know her that he remembered those promises. It is a lesson I took to heart long before I was ever married. Whenever she reads my posts, I want Sctrz to be reminded of our special day, and the promises I made to her, promises that we made together.

It is neither about putting her on a pedestal nor about being "The Man of the house." We are equal partners in our marriage. I respect her, and value her opinion; though I am hard-headed, not very good at listening. To borrow a now trite, but very true, phrase, she completes me.

While long-time readers of this blog—and my followers on Twitter—may know who Sctrz is, I am ever mindful of newcomers who may say to themselves, "Who the heck is this Sctrz person? And why does rowan (not my real name, any more than Sctrz is hers) keep referring to this person?"

Sctrz is many things. She is my gaming partner, my partner in crime, my lover, my confidant, my best friend. She is a manager, a dog lover, a student, a nerd, a mother, a breadwinner, a lover of sunflowers, a gamer, a speed demon. But now and for as long as she wants to be, I will think of her as my lovely bride.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Rowanblaze and Sctrz' Online Gaming Survey

The Gearbox faux pas that came to light yesterday led to some interesting discussions online and in person. My male perspective on the incident was quite different than that of my partner in crime, Sctrz. This post is only sort of about that though. What our discussion over lunch at McAlister's did lead to was this brief survey. Sctrz and I designed and composed it together last night, and I published it to G+ with a very brief explanation. This is the more thorough one. Mostly The survey is to satisfy our curiosity on a couple of topics that I will explain in the results post, the timing of which will depend partly on you, Dear Reader, and whatever gamer friends you can help recruit for the survey. It's no more than seven(7) questions, plus an optional comment space. All answers are anonymous, unless you put your name in the comment box, of course. The survey is through Google Docs, so if you can't get access, it's probably because it's blocked by your internet service provider or office.

Please spread the word, in addition to taking the survey yourself. I'd like to get as much participation as I can. And thanks in advance. :D [EDIT] Also, this is our first attempt at a "neutral questionaire." Check the comment section for clarifications, etc. I have provided to others.[/EDIT] [EDIT2] I'm sorry I didn't include SP-RPG (Fallout, MassEffect, etc.). It was late. Check "Other" and fill it in.[/EDIT2]

Finally 50 in SWTOR!

Hooray! Chico (aka Chicco) and Versteckt have finally made it to the current maximum level in SWTOR, making this the second pair of characters I have leveled in an MMO together with my lovely bride, Sctrz. We still have to finish up our characters' stories, and I need a few more affection points with my romantic interest, Ensign Temple. Sctrz is already maxed out in affection with Torian. We need to get it this week, though; that monthly fee is coming up quick.

Friday, August 10, 2012

TSW Pro-tips: Never Re-role Your Characters!

Read the comments! Great contributions from other readers!
Kadomi was contemplating re-roling her character in The Secret World a day or two ago, because she wasn't sure she liked the weapons she'd chosen. Feliz and I admonished her not to do that.

In my mind there are only three reasons to re-role:
  1. You don't like your name.
  2. You don't like your looks.
  3. You don't like your faction.
And as Ardua pointed out on Twitter, "One of [those] reasons can be dumped soon enough with the cosmetic options coming in soon." Jabberant also chimed in, "I read somewhere where a Funcom person said it was actually slower to get new abilities by re-rolling." Anywhere you currently are is a faster XP gain than starting over.

Now, you may decide to go back to Kingsmouth to run some easy quests again and make some quick AP/SP. This is OK, but if you're not doing too badly in your current area, stick with it, because you're getting more XP per kill and per quest in the more advanced areas.

Never sacrifice your AP/SP! Keep your current abilities while you gain new ones. If you're putting SP into your talisman skills (which you should be!) you won't lose them by switching to a new weapon. But you will if you re-role. Remember, you can spend points on weapons before actually wielding them. No need to gimp your current deck while building the next. No need to equip new weapons until you can use them effectively.

Gear Manager Is Your Friend . . .

. . . but I think it's a slight misnomer. I've tried to explain this before, but I don't think it was effective. You don't need multiple sets of gear for Gear Manager to be effective. Yes, you can carry around enough gear to effectively fill any role in a group, but chances are—at least early in the game—you'll want to simply upgrade gear you've got rather than accumulate different sets. On the other hand, you're quickly obtaining so many abilities that you'll soon have far more abilities than you have currently equipped. Some abilities are clearly useful for fighting single opponents, while others are far more suited to mowing down groups of mobs. Gear Manager comes in very handy for quickly flipping between sets of abilities even if you only have one real set of effective talismans. If you like macros, you can also set buttons to "/gearmanager use name" where "name" is the name of the saved gear/ability settings.
If you're making macros to assign to buttons, it helps to name your sets the same between alts (I've switched to the simple "AoE" from "Mass Mobs," for instance.)

I've gone over skills and abilities in the past. I don't plan to write any guide showing any überl33t Flavor of the Month Deck that I think you should follow. I can only say that I am having little trouble so far with my chosen decks, and I only want to point you in the right direction. I linked this Deck Builder the other day, as well. It's awesome for seeing at a glance which active and passive abilities produce/exploit which states (Afflict, Weaken, Hinder, Impair) and what weapons may create synergies when used together. And it's accessible from inside the game, through the web interface (though this may not be ideal). You can also use whatever passive abilities you may have learned, regardless of whether you're currently using the weapon associated with them. So that Blade HoT passive can be used even if you're currently using Blood and Fists.

To the Ability Wheel!

Have you ever used the Ability Search on the right side of the Ability Wheel interface? If not, doooo eeet! If you have, have you used the check box filters (at the the top) to narrow down the search to only abilities you have already purchased?

How about looking only at abilities one weapon or the other:
Or only actives or passives:
I do this often to help me decide which abilities to equip for my Single Target deck, and which to use for my AoE deck. On one character, I also have a deck emphasizing healing. I can't tell you which abilities you should use because I haven't played with all the abilities. Study the abilities you have, sorting them in different ways might help. This is exploratory learning. I can tell you some are more situationally useful than others. I'd venture to say that every ability is effective in some combat situation in the game. Deciding which ones to equip and use is up to you.

Tactics vs. Strategy

Many have been less than impressed with the combat in The Secret World, but I think TSW is more about strategy and less about tactics. While choosing a deck seems more complex initially (and it is), you have time to look at what's available and prepare from the safety of the Sheriff's Office or The Horned God bar. You don't have to worry in the heat of battle where that obscure stun is among your 48 buttons. The downside is that it may not be available and you'll die. You'd probably die anyway, because you're hunting through all those buttons for that one ability you never use. The upside is that when you do load out properly, you will "crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!"

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Points and Counterpoints on The Secret World

So the big Celebration Weekend is over. A lot of people who hadn't had a chance to sample The Secret World got their chance, and while not everyone was satisfied, I'm sure Funcom picked quite a few new acolytes. Kadomi gushes enthusiastically about the game, the themes appealed to her: Lovecraftian horror, LGBT-friendly (I would say neutral, or matter-of-fact). She concludes with this:
I have to say, this was the first MMO since WoW that totally made me forget the time. When my SO told me it was time to do groceries after I sat down to play it at noon, and it was miraculously 6 pm, I was boggling.
Psynister and Fynralyl were, shall we say, less enthusiastic. They bring up valid points, but much of their concern is over stylistic choices made by the Ragnar Tornquist and his team rather than (what I perceive as) flaws in the game itself. Since that is a matter of taste, there is not too much I could say that would change their minds. And that is perfectly OK. The Secret World is not a game for everyone, just the setting—our own modern world, with supernatural horrors—is a turn-off for many, and that is before you even get into the mechanics of the game.

Dark and Profane

Fyn, in particular was not fond of the dark "hyper-realistic" art style of the game. I put that in quotes because while I think that was the goal, we all have a long way to go before fully interactive video games can have the realism of Hollywood CGI. I've mentioned it before, but the uncanny valley that many of the characters live in just adds to the creepiness of the game for me. That said, I myself am looking forward to spending time in the far more pleasant climes of Guild Wars 2.

The lack of PC interaction in the cutscenes was also mentioned, something particularly noticeable to someone coming directly from SWTOR's conversation wheels. In TSW, the NPCs actually make mention of the PC's reticence. I  personally feel this frees me up for RP. My Templar is German; my Iluminata, Texan; and my Dragon, Japanese. The addition of whatever voices the devs decided to use would force me to alter my conception of these characters. Perhaps not as big a deal in SWTOR, though eventually the spoken dialogue of my characters there becomes grating sometimes, when they don't say exactly what I thought they should say. So it's a stylistic choice some people will like and others won't.
The prominent profanity laced through the game is a major turn-off for many. Both Psyn and Fyn found it not only gratuitous, but Fyn said, "It also reminded me of a kid trying too hard to be 'cool'." This is an honest critique; unfortunately, the use of profanity is more widespread than some would like in the Real World, too. Sad to say, I work in a environment where that sort of language is common. I am guilty of using it myself, because it is pervasive. Sctrz doesn't like it at all, she skipped through the junkman's cutscenes completely.

Creation and Progression

Fyn also didn't like the limitation of three character slots per account. Actually, she referred to this issue as her deal breaker. [EDIT] Extra slots are available from you account page on the TSW website. Details below, thanks to Eric[/EDIT] Fyn realized that there was a slot for each faction, and with every character capable of learning every skill and ability eventually, that may be all that's necessary for most people. But she likes to play alts in order to relax at different levels of the game, so for her three slots simply isn't enough. I am playing three alts and therefore repeating a fair amount of content, as well as progressing more slowly through it than Belghast, MMO Gamer Chick, and others. I don't need to play more, because of the classless thing; and you can see from my character pages, Dear Reader, that I am normally an unrepentant altoholic.

Both Fyn and Psyn had issues with the no-levels aspect of the game. Psyn really hit the nail on the head with his section title "Leveling Without Levels." Let's put a stop to the lie that there isn't character stat progression in TSW. As Psyn correctly pointed out, if there were no levels in the game, a newbie straight out of the tutorial should be able to walk into Transylvania (the last zone of zones) and have a decent chance of survival. This is not the case. What TSW doesn't have is discreet levels and a specific signal (The GLOW) that says, "You are now better/stronger/faster than a second ago."

Character progression in terms of stats is done through the purchase of Skills. Since you can spend Skill points however you choose, there is plenty of room to screw it up. Fyn mentioned that she didn't like having to devote skill points to talisman skills in order to wear higher quality talismans. She wanted to spend them all on weapons. What she may not have realized is that the Talisman Skills are also where you improve your characters' basic hit points, as well as their resistance to physical and magical damage. Also, each weapon has two skill paths, but it only necessary to fill in one path to wield higher quality weapons. On my toons, I have taken to filling all the talismans and the two weapons I wield in a balanced way: the Major Talisman Skill first as it boosts HP, then the weapons, and finally the other talismans. But there's nothing that says you have to do this.
In a related vein, Psyn and Fyn both disliked the inability to easily see the relative strength of their opponents; however as was pointed out in a comment on Psyn's review, the mobs do have an indicator of their strength, it's just not a number. I personally look at the mob's HP and make a judgement call on whether I think I can whittle it down before I am dead myself. I do get in over my head.

Neither Here Nor There

The questing system of The Secret World is designed to slow you down to "savor" each quest as you're doing it, limiting your current list to one phase of the overarching story, one main/investigation/sabotage quest, one "dungeon" quest, and three side quests. Attempting to pick up any further quests will result in pausing the current quest of that type (or one of the three). You can't run around and pick up all the quests. Part of the reason for this is that many of the quests, even the side ones, involve a bit of thought, and maybe some research on the internet.

TSW has a built in web browser to assist in these quests. Neither Fyn nor Psyn mentioned the need for outside research in their reviews, but it's something I've noticed others saying. This is a love-or-hate aspect of the game. TSW is almost an Alternate Reality Game, and as such, the devs have peppered the internet with sites and pages that help with the quests, or at the very least, they have researched commonly used sites like Wikipedia to help build their mysteries. And this is beyond the thorough research they did on the environment itself.

I also can't speak to the complaint that the quests send you all over the map, since I neither saw the paths that Psyn and Fyn took, nor can I gauge their tolerance levels for wandering. I personally don't think there's too much, the quests I pick up seem to flow fairly well together, and I make note of where things are so I can return when my current task is done. This is ultimately another matter of taste.

The story of what is going on in The Secret World starts with the videos you encounter at the very beginning of the character creation process. Psynister decided to skip the videos since he was going to role one of each faction anyway. This is the first time I'll actually say he made a mistake. Those videos, and the quest cutscenes, and the conversations with main NPCs, are integral to understanding what is going on here. Psyn goes further in saying, "I don’t think they did a very good job of actually telling you what the story is." I feel the information is there, but you have to seek it out.

There are two ways of telling a mystery story. One is to let the audience know who the perpetrator of the crime is right off the bat, and then let them follow the investigators as they unravel the mystery. The other is to leave the audience in the dark, as well, allowing them to figure out the mystery. The Secret World is of the second type. You don't start out with a ton of information other than what's given to you through the dialogue. As you progress through the quests, you find out more about not only the main mystery, but the secret world in general. I actually found this very similar to playing vanilla WoW so many years ago, not there is a ton of mystery in WoW, but there is a rich world to discover.
A Swing and a Miss

Psynister would also like more the capabilities of the different weapon types spelled out. Now, when you first open both Skills and Abilities a video automatically starts playing which explains the basics. These abilities are accessible at any time from the help button in their respective interfaces. The only thing I can say to beyond that is The Secret World refuses to hold your hand. Prepare to be challenged. The specifications of every ability in the game is available from the Ability Wheel interface, including suggested decks that mention their purpose or role in a group: Tank, DPS, or Healer. The Skill paths for each weapon are also based on the potential role of that weapon. For example, Blood has both a healing path and a DPS path. But you have to look at the interface to see it. I can't remember  everything it says, but I am curious, since Psyn skipped the faction videos, did he also skip the Skill and Ability tutorials?

I can understand the eagerness to just get the game going already, and I think Guild Wars 2 is a great example of getting you involved in gameplay right away, progression details can come later. TSW doesn't, other than the quick subway disaster tutorial. And even then, I can see how it may give a mistaken impression of the shotgun abilities. However, I am a strong fan of so-called exploratory learning. I am far more adept with Windows and MS Office than the vast majority of my coworkers, simply because I either have played around with the programs so much, or am willing to go to the help file to find a solution to an issue. I found TSW to be the same way. I can explore both the world environment and the UI to my heart's content. For those of you still reading and interested in playing I highly recommend this Deck Builder.

TL;DR: Different Strokes

Only so many character slots, only so many quests at a time, only so many active and passive abilities in any given fight. Using limitations, TSW forces you to focus and plan. Take the time to really look around and listen to the NPCs. Explore your Abilities to figure what goes best with what based on your own playstyle. Explore the world both for XP and to find Lore objects. I've "wasted" several hours on my characters just exploring the safe Faction capitals looking for Lore. I loved it.

Neither Psyn nor Fyn are dummies. On the contrary, they are both intelligent, thoughtful people, with whom I am glad to share an online friendship, which I hope continues after this post. :) Their posts are insightful impressions of TSW for people coming to the game "blind." I'm sorry I wasn't available to answer questions they had during gameplay; recommending healing weapons, for instance. Ultimately, it would not have made much difference. Stylistically, the game is not their cuppa tea. This game serves a niche, much like EVE. It's not for everyone, but I am glad people have had a chance to play and decide for themselves whether the game is for them. Hey guys, I'll see you in GW2!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Death of the Subscription Model, Warmed Over

The news that SWTOR is transitioning to a "free to play" model (actually a hybrid P2P/F2P model) has sent the gaming/blogging/tweeting world into yet another tizzie. The pro-F2Pers are dancing in the streets to the strains of "Ding! Dong! Subscription's Dead!" Meanwhile, the self-appointed MMO pundits are sitting back in their armchairs, declaring, "I told you so," and trying yet again to nail the coffin shut on SWTOR. While I think the Truth is out there, I doubt we'll ever have enough information to prognosticate the end of the sub-based MMORPG.

Money up front . . .


by quaziefoto

Lest We Forget

The solar radiance of WoW shines a huge light on the matter. The elephant in the room has more active subs than all other "AAA" games out there combined; and while there are chinks in Blizzard's armor, I don't see that changing in the foreseeable future. Add to this shining example other veteran MMOs like EVE and Rift (does it count as veteran?) and you begin to see a trend—or at least a plateau.

But look, the "pundits" say, at all the games that have free to play just to survive! LOTRO, STO, CO, AoC. Now add SWTOR, the biggest budget game since . . . EVAHR! And they just cried uncle. ArenaNet didn't even bother, they're launching GW2 as F2P just as they did with the original GW. Clearly the trend is toward free-to-play.

Things are tough all over, even for Blizzard. But time and again I hear people say that they are willing to pay for a quality gaming experience. Some others would rather not pay a sub on top of a stiff box price. Stil others refuse to pay a subscription for any game, no matter what. These people are giving their personal philosophies rather than actually commenting on the business models. There are quality games that have no monthly subscriptions. Many more have a hybrid model, where for an upfront sub fee, you get extra content privileges or a stipend in an otherwise RMT shop. Others require a full subscription to play at all. If the quality is there, this is not a problem for me. But when I stop having fun, I don't want to pay anymore.

Everything Must Go!

Tesh commented on the recent Steam sale as well, and I think it is related. Sales are always great for the consumer. But we all to often think the sellers are doing us a favor, partly because they try to make it seem that they are. The reality is very different.

Imagine you're a shopkeeper. You've paid a hundred bucks for some cat food, 50¢ per can. You figure you can sell for the cat food for twice as much as you paid, $200. You sell about 50 cans at a dollar a piece. With a quarter of your inventory gone, you're half-way to the break-even point. But then sales start to dry up. Everyone willing to pay a dollar for a can of cat food has done so. So you reduce the price. And put a sign up. SALE! Cat Food, 75¢! You sell a few more but then sales dry up again. So you reduce the price again. Given the trend, you'll probably break even, but you won't make your profit goal. Under some circumstances, however, you'll be more worried about cutting your losses than making a profit.

While development costs muddy the water, the cost to produce a game license (because that's what you're really buying) is so close to 0¢ that it may as well be. Therefore, if a company can get any more sales by reducing the price from an initial premium, it is only to their advantage to do so. If it gets to the point where you're only paying a few dollars (or euros) for it on Steam, it's still worth it to the producer to sell it, regardless of whether they are making a profit or recouping a loss.

. . . or nickel and dime?


by Martien van Asseldonk

A game transitioning to free-to-play may be the best thing that ever happened it, turning a foundering title to a profitable venture. If reducing the box price of SWTOR and offering a F2P option induces more players to try it, that can only be good for EA/BioWare. It doesn't alter any perceived flaws in the game, itself.

As I said before, many people are willing to pay a subscription for quality content (much like a magazine sub). They say it's a more honest model. Others want to play for free and buy stuff from the cash shop only if necessary. Luckily, as I also said, most (all?) of the F2P games I've mentioned have the subscription option. Let's face it, the developer/publisher needs to make a profit to continue providing the game service. The money has to come from somewhere.

More Bang For Your Buck

The real question is, Does the game service provide you value? That is, is the game designed to your tastes? Do you enjoy playing? Is your investment in time (and money) worth it? If not, move on. Hopefully, the game will find its audience and succeed. If not, it will fail.

The other question is, Does providing the game service give value to the producer? Are they getting a return on their investment? Don't forget sunk costs, which can be a problem as the executives irrationally try to get back what they put in, perhaps throwing good money after bad. Or focusing too much on the bottom line and not enough on the art.

Regardless of the quality of the game itself, SWTOR may simply have been too ambitious a project, with too much money thrown at it in an attempt or expectation of WoW-like player populations. Like LOTRO and several others, SWTOR will hopefully find its footing in the hybrid model. There are too many games on the market, and they are all—for good or bad—in orbit of the elephant. It is my hope that new projects will have more realistic expectations of player populations, whether P2P or F2P.

As for those that bemoan the communities that may or may not sour as a result of the "rabble" invading the Halls of the Emperor, I say you can find the community you want in every MMO. I, for one, am grateful to be part of the (now) meta-Guild Republic Mercy Corps, as well as the relatively small community of like-minded bloggers and twitterers I follow. Every game I have played has brought me more friends. We don't always agree, but we always have fun. If we aren't having fun, then why play?