MMO News Reactions 5

A series of short reactions to the week’s MMORPG stories, otherwise known as “just about giving up on blogging” because I can’t be bothered to write long posts lately.

Sorry about last week’s post. I was scrolling through Twitter last Friday and much to my own surprise I found that I’d posted something to my blog without even looking at it or setting a header image or anything. This time I will refrain from scheduling this to post right after creating the draft!

Camelot Unchained to announce beta date. An announcement to announce an upcoming announcement… funny stuff. The beta date will have been released by the time this post publishes, but I’m not going to include it just to be spiteful. It’s unlikely I will be playing the beta anyway. I’m curious to see the game but it’s obviously not a game meant for people like me, who don’t want other people to be the main content in their games.

Ashes of Creation released some alpha gameplay video. My first draft of this post had a whole lot more negative words here, but I’m editing it way down to just this: I didn’t think the game looked very good, and I’m shocked that they released that video. (I watched it with the sound off, so that the streamers’ enthusiasm wouldn’t influence me–take that, influencers!)

Project Gorgon will only be playable through Steam. Bummer. Still waiting to hear the price.

Hawaii congressman talks about regulating loot boxes. This news seems to be generating some excitement in the blogosphere. My reaction is as before. It’s either a) feel-good legislation that has no impact (labels, which puts the enforcement burden on parents, where it should already be), or b) unenforceable laws that have no impact (can’t sell loot boxes to minors–publishers will simply add an “are you over 21?” checkbox to the purchase page to absolve themselves of liability).

RIFT Leveling Anew

With all the buzz about RIFT Prime, I wondered if I could recreate a nostalgic experience for free just by starting a new character on plain old RIFT Normal. I wanted to check two things: To see if experience points were withheld from free players at the beginning of the game just like at level 68, leading to hard road blocks that could only be made up by endless grinding or spending cash. Secondly, I wanted to speculate on what RIFT Prime might deliver to me that would be superior to what I was experiencing completely for free.

After this experiment of starting over with my own self-imposed nostalgia tour, I’m more puzzled than ever about RIFT Prime. I’m not sure how a RIFT Prime subscription experience will differ from a plain RIFT subscription experience, or even a free experience. Methinks there is a bit of marketing handwaving hijinks and social engineering going on here.

It turned out that I already had a level 2 Guardian Cleric, so I went forward with that one. I have a level 60 cleric but honestly I have zero memory of it–I have no idea which soul(s) I used to level. This new one is a Druid/Shaman/Inquisitor, which was apparently the preset I picked whenever I made this character. For my test, I didn’t use any of the perks I’d accumulated over the years, with the sole exception of a 110% horse I pulled out of my veteran rewards around level 10 (I just got tired of running–it turned out I could almost have bought a 60% horse around that time anyway, and definitely could have bought a 90% mount a few levels later, because you get crazy gold drops now). I did not use any daily rewards, gifts, or whatever. I did not use any boost potions. I tried not to use anything that wouldn’t have been available to someone starting their first character on a brand new free account (except the horse). In other words, I tried to play exactly the same way I played at launch in 2011.

Now that I think about it, I had a 60% collector’s turtle mount at launch in 2011. Oh well.

If you have not leveled a character from the beginning since “vanilla” RIFT, you will be in for a massive shock because it is almost nothing like the original game anymore. This is not new–it happened many years ago, I think even before the free-to-play conversion. The maps are the same, but they cut down on the number of quests by about two-thirds, and there is almost no chance of dying anymore. Basically everything is done for you now. You don’t have to learn the soul system, you don’t have to find class trainers, you don’t really have to do much of anything but run to the next quest giver, collect your experience points, mash the “auto spend soul points” button, and move on.

This is where I first pondered RIFT Prime. Will it be different in RIFT Prime? Will they restore the “vanilla” experience before everything was handed to us on a silver platter? The obvious answer and my personal prediction is: Nope. The new player experience in RIFT Prime will be exactly the same as it is today, because that is the code base they are running now. They’re not going to roll back the code to 2011 and dump it on a new server. That would be insane. So I don’t think it’s going to be accurate to call RIFT Prime a “nostalgia” or “classic” or “vanilla” experience. It’s going to be today’s experience, with a level cap of 50, on a new server. That doesn’t sound particularly noteworthy to me, considering I can have that exact same experience for free on one of their existing servers. I just did it (at least up to level 22). I predict that as we start to learn more about RIFT Prime, or more likely as people start dropping money on it and playing it, people are going to be disappointed to find out what it actually is–a marketing gimmick.

Anyway, back to my new cleric and the RIFT Normal experience.

At first I simply followed the story quests, and ignored all of the carnage quests and side quests. I didn’t do any rifts (they would have been solo efforts anyway, as much as they were ignored), and I barely interacted with any of the numerous zone events. I ran into my first road block at level 12. I could not accept any more of the story quests at Highglades Lookout, the hub near the Realm of the Fae in Silverwood.

I had to find a way to level up before I could continue, which I accomplished by backtracking to do some of the side quests and carnage quests I skipped. I also found a quest from Bahralt in Sanctum which sent me to a library in Moonshade Highlands that I had never seen before. (Will that be in RIFT Prime? It shouldn’t be.)

From then onward I picked up every quest I saw, not just the story quests. I still ignored carnage quests, though, unless I accidentally initiated them. The next road block occurred at level 14, when I could not accept the next story quest from Thelliam Bedstraw in Quicksilver College. I was able to head back to that Moonshade Highlands library and level up. I also completed a single instant adventure in Shimmersand, which rained crazy experience points on me, and gained another level. (Will those be in RIFT Prime? They shouldn’t be.)

The next road block occurred at level 16, at the little hub outside Overwatch Keep near the Marsh House. I couldn’t accept the next story quest there. I believe I leveled up by going back to Quicksilver College to find more side quests, and I found a variety of scavenger hunt quests that took me into Overwatch Keep.

The myriad quests around Overwatch Keep at the end of the zone gave out enough experience that I had no more issues completing the zone and heading to Gloamwood. I was level 18 when I defeated Kongegoran and completed the Silverwood zone. The quest levels indicate you’re supposed to be level 19 as you head over to Gloamwood.

I did not run into any experience point road blocks in completing the Gloamwood zone, where I reached level 22. I was able to go from story quest to story quest without hindrance, however I did pick up and complete many of the optional side quests along the way, and some carnage quests, too. The last zone quest is level 24, and the mobs at the end are level 25 and occasionally 26. The area up around the final Hag encounter was fairly challenging if you don’t take it slow and easy (which is exactly how I remember it from vanilla RIFT, actually–but back then it was for different reasons).

I concluded that while I wasn’t thwarted from playing for free, as I am at level 68, there were a couple of times when I came up short on experience points playing the way I wanted to play. Fortunately it was reasonably quick to “grind” and make up the experience gap at the low levels, but I’m dubious about it being so quick and easy going forward. After level 50, for example. At level 68, it would take hours of grinding in instant adventures or zone events for me to reach level 69, a process that does not appeal to me in the slightest. I guess I could do some dungeons, too, but I’m not geared for dungeons, plus I’m not anxious to see the state of PUGs after so many years of free-to-play.

After my experiment, I concluded that RIFT does, in fact, shortchange free players from the very beginning, but perhaps not as bad as they do at level 68. I wasn’t surprised to find this out. They have to have an incentive to subscribe (or at least buy the Patron status), and to be honest that’s the best incentive for it.

Getting back to RIFT Prime, I think that’s what they are trying to do: Find another way to nudge people into subscribing. But I’m not seeing why I should play on a “progression” server after subscribing instead of the live server.

P.S. I never realized until writing this post that RIFT is supposed to be all caps.

A Podcast Experiment

I’m excited and terrified to announce that I’m launching an experimental podcast project tentatively called Main Quest and you–yes you–can listen to the first two episodes right here! Well, down below a bit, anyway.

Have you ever been sitting at work, or driving your car, or waiting at the dentist, and thought, “I wish I could listen to the story from a game right now?”

Well I have. A lot. So much so that I’ve recorded a lot of my own gameplay with OBS over the last two or three years, converted it to mp3s, and put them on my phone, just so I could listen to them at work. (I’ve never been able to play videos or watch Twitch at work.)

So I had an idea to take this concept a bit further and create a “Let’s Listen” podcast. It’s similar to a Let’s Play video series, but it uses only the sounds and voices from the game itself, with occasional narration added to set the scene,  mercilessly edited down to include only the most essential parts of the story. When it’s done, it sounds a bit like an old radio serial.

It’s an homage to the voice acting, sound design, and music that goes into great games.

I’m starting with Fallout 4, since it happens to be the game that I just finished playing. It’s also one of the great story games out there. (But basically any game with a voiced protagonist could work for this.)

I can hear you saying now, “That’s a genius idea! How can I listen to this masterpiece right away??”

Here is the podcast link for your podcatcher of choice:

http://endgameviable.com/feed/podcast/main-quest

Someday you might be able to search for it with ease, but for now you’ll have to type it in manually. I still have to figure out all that “submitting your feed to iTunes” nonsense.

If you’re really impatient, I’ve also put the first two episodes on SoundCloud, so I could put their fancy schmancy embedded player right in this post. The first two episodes cover the Fallout 4 introduction/tutorial and Out of Time quests, and you can listen to them by clicking the big orange play button right here:

If all goes well, there will be roughly 23 of these episodes.

MMO News Reactions 4

A series of short reactions to the week’s MMORPG stories, otherwise known as “just about giving up on blogging” because I can’t be bothered to write long posts lately.

Nexon laid off some people. I don’t think I play any Nexon games.

Forbes interview on WoW Classic. I don’t think I mentioned this at the time, but while Blizzcon made it sound like WoW Classic was right around the corner, I secretly thought it sounded like they hadn’t even started on it yet. This confirms that it sounds like they haven’t even gotten out of the “memos around the office” phase of this project yet. How many years away will this thing be? Will Star Citizen be out before WoW Classic?

There is more talk of “official” classifications of gaming addiction. My only comment here is that I find it a bit ironic that gamers quickly rush to decry gaming addiction as made-up out of thin air, and simultaneously crusade against predatory loot boxes.

Games Played – January 2018

A Bethesda-heavy month.

  • Oblivion – 23 hours
  • Fallout 4 – 20 hours
  • Rift – 15 hours
  • ShooterGame\* … I mean ARK – 10 hours
  • Morrowind – 10 hours
  • Skyrim – 4 hours
  • Dark Souls III – 3 hours
  • Final Fantasy XIV – 2 hours
  • ESO – 1 hour

It might seem like an even distribution of games across the entire month, but it was more like a sequential progression of games starting with Morrowind, then Oblivion, then ARK, and then the month ended with Rift and finally Fallout 4 sunk its claws into me big time (again), quite unexpectedly.

* I like to remind ARK that they never bothered to rename the default Unreal Engine project name “ShooterGame.” :) It is indicative of how anxious they were to throw something out on Steam as fast as possible.

What’s With The Console Exclusives?

Last week we learned that Red Dead Redemption 2 will be delayed until October 26, 2018, and there is still no word on a PC version. (The first one was a console exclusive.)

I personally don’t care that much about RDR2, having never played or even seen the first one. I was more interested in the ensuing Twitter thread I got involved in about PC versus console games. I felt like I came across as one of those “oh no PC games are dead!” people so I figured I should elaborate a bit more here. (It’s almost impossible to say anything substantive on Twitter without being misinterpreted.)

In the last year, I’ve noticed what seems to be an increase in buzzworthy, game-of-the-year-contending console exclusive titles or titles that release on the console first, then on PC later. Horizon Zero Dawn, Breath of the Wild, Nioh, Destiny 2, and just recently, Monster Hunter World. Those are just the ones I can name off the top of my head, because they’re all games that I might be interested in playing (okay I had to lookup Nioh because I forgot the name). Those games are all different cases that don’t really tie together, but it “feels” like there were more last year than I can ever remember before, especially more games with delayed PC releases.

(Bloodbourne is the next most recent console exclusive I can remember wishing I could play.)

If Red Dead Redemption 2 ends up skipping out on a PC version too, or delaying the PC version, it makes me wonder if something is “going on.” There has to be a reason studios keep doing this. Is it too troublesome to make PC games now? Is it too “expensive” as we learned from Raph Koster a while back? Are console makers paying studios to make console exclusives? Do gamers buy console games more than PC games? Are studios trying to trick us into buying both a console version and a PC version?

I don’t really know the answer, but it’s probably some combination of all of the above.

I thought I had heard Sony paid for Horizon Zero Dawn, but after a bit of investigation, it turns out that Guerrilla Games is actually a subsidiary of Sony Entertainment, so it makes sense that basically all of their games will be PS4 exclusives. Guerrilla may not be receiving cash money from Sony to turn away Xbox and/or PC sales, but they are certainly getting a lot of free marketing dollars. (That is wild speculation, but if I were in charge of Guerrilla, I would certainly be expecting some quid pro quo there.)

I don’t know much about Nintendo’s world but I assume there’s a logical explanation for why Breath of the Wild was only available there. Oh, that’s right: Nintendo develops their own games.

What other explanations could there be for console exclusives? I can only think of two: The developer is more proficient at making console games (a weak rationale in a world of cross-platform game engines), or players buy more console games than PC games, so it’s more profitable for the developer.

As a PC gamer myself, I very much hope that consoles are not more popular, or at least not so much so that developers stop bothering to make PC games. (I lived through the 1990s when game developers stopped bothering to make Amiga games and switched to making PC games so they could actually make some money. Remember the Amiga version of Doom? Me neither, because it didn’t exist until someone ported the source code in 1998, long after the Amiga was effectively dead.)

I did some investigation. A popular ESA study released in 2015  definitively showed that there are more PC gamers than console gamers. Most of the headlines made it sound like it was a tidal wave of PC gamers, but it was actually more like “a little bit more but really for business decision-making purposes pretty close to even.”

If that’s still the case today, I don’t see why a developer wouldn’t make an effort to target both (all) platforms. Targeting only consoles would mean throwing away potentially half of your customers. Especially when it’s relatively easy to make cross-platform games these days (compared to 10+ years ago–before Unreal Engine, Unity, etc.).

Of course the cynic in me looks at the study again and sees this: It doesn’t say that console gamers don’t have a PC, or that PC gamers don’t have a console. If anything, it says most people own both. Only 6% of the “frequent gamers” have a PC and not a console (that would be me). So if a developer makes a console-only game, does it really mean half of the potential audience can’t play it? Probably not.

But console exclusives are their own thing, and not really worth too much investigation. They are almost always a product of the console maker, in some way or another–essentially an advertisement for the hardware.

Most interesting to me are these cases of games that release first on the console, then later on the PC. I don’t know why studios do this. I can really only think of two reasons that make sense to me.

The first is that releasing on the console first would allow the developer to iron out bugs before the PC launch. That seems like an incredibly weak reason, though, considering that typically console launches have to be more bug-free than PC launches. I don’t know much about this, but I’ve always gotten the impression that it’s harder and slower to push updates to consoles than PCs. If developers were going to use a launch platform as a live testing phase, it should be the PC platform.

The only other–and frankly the best–explanation I can think of is a pretty devious one: They are hoping to trick gamers into buying both versions to double their sales.

Based on that study above, and plenty of anecdotal evidence on Twitter, we can assume that more people would prefer to play a game on the PC over a console (I know I would). But if the studio releases a “hot” game on console first, buzz and hype will compel PC gamers to buy the console version so they are part of the hip crowd even though they would prefer the PC version. (We also know from that study above that a whole lot of PC gamers also own consoles.)

That might sound ludicrous to saavy consumers, but based purely on observations of my Twitter timeline, it sure looks like PC gamers will happily throw money at a console game without any hesitation, even knowing full well that it will be arriving on PC later. Someone in my blogroll even bought an Xbox One X to play Monster Hunter World.

The real question, though, is will those people buy the game again when it launches on PC? I would guess that a lot of gamers have a fair amount of disposable income, and would not hesitate to do so. Such gamers might get the “hype” out of their system with the console launch, then, if they like the game, settle down to play the game “for real” (or again) with the PC version, after all the “cool kids” (aka. Twitch streamers) have long since moved on to something else.

That’s wild speculation, though, based on my exceedingly dim view of the modern game consumer. I imagine the average gamer now as having considerably more money than sense, to be perfectly blunt about it. Then again, gaming is a pretty cheap hobby, comparatively speaking. Ask a golfer how much their hobby costs.

But suppose the PC gamer does the sensible thing and doesn’t buy the game again? Assuming they like the game, they will remain locked into the console version for the life of the game. Why would studios want that? If a lot of people do that, it shifts more percentage points away from the PC Gamer side to the Console Gamer side of that study, and some day, studios might really decide PC games aren’t worth the effort any more.

I know, more wild conspiracy theories. And I’m not quite sure what the endgame there would be. I can’t explain why it would be advantageous for studios to herd gamers from PCs to consoles, other than that it might be easier to develop for consoles. But since we now live in a cross-platform game engine world, I’m not sure that’s true anymore.

The only other explanation is that we gamers are but pieces in a giant game of chess between the boardrooms of console makers and PC OS makers.

Anyway, these are the kinds of things that run through my mind after I see a random tweet go through my timeline.

MMO News Reactions 3

Gloamwood. I played a new character through the first two zones in Rift to imagine what Rift Prime might be like.

A series of short reactions to the week’s MMORPG stories, otherwise known as “just about giving up on blogging” because I can’t be bothered to write long posts lately.

Sea of Thieves was in closed beta. This is a game on my radar, but the more I see, the less I’m interested. For starters, I’m one of the rare people in the world who has never had a “thing” for pirates, so the gameplay loop itself must attract me. But a) it’s clearly not an MMORPG and b) it’s clearly designed to be played by a group of real-life friends manning a ship, a la Guns of Icarus, with their interpersonal socializing being the biggest part of the game’s fun. Dragonchaser bravely tried to play solo, which is how I would have played it, but it’s fairly obvious from his narrative that the developers don’t want you to play like that. $60 saved.

Blah blah Sentator investigating lockboxes blah blah. Controversy time! I have a long post about lockboxes, gambling, and regulation in draft form but I can’t seem to chisel it down to a publishable form. The short version of my outrageous pragmatism is that I don’t see regulation happening anytime soon, unless it is regulation to maintain today’s status quo. Casual observations suggest lockboxes are very popular with both studios and consumers. The only people who don’t like lockboxes are old-school purists who grew up without them, and we are a minority now, as far as I can tell. On this particular story, regulating Internet games at the state level sounds ludicrous, and trying to force parents to monitor their kids’ gaming habits by adding a disclaimer sounds even more ludicrous.

H1Z1 nerfs ENAS. I had never heard of “ENAS” (East North American Strafe) but I am almost positive that some variation of the “move mouse, strafe, jump, run” exploit existed in (at least) Quake 2, 3, and the original Tribes. It is not surprising to hear about an exploit like this surfacing in H1Z1, the game whose entire reputation is built on how buggy it is. :)

Final Fantasy XIV Patch 4.2, Rise of a New Sun is out. I tried the Glamour Dresser. It’s not that great. :) I mean, compared to how glamours used to work in FFXIV, it’s fantastic. But compared to wardrobe systems in other games, it’s not that easy to use. It’s a bit like WoW’s “improved” transmog system a while back: Great for WoW, but not so great compared to other games.

Something Something Crowfall Crafting. No comment, except that I recently won a 2017 Crowfall Backer package thingy in a voiceover contest. Unfortunately I have no idea whether I can play this game or not. It says I get Beta 1 and Beta 2 access but I think it’s still in Pre-Alpha? I can’t make any sense of it. I get the impression you have to immerse yourself completely in that community to really understand what’s going on. The point is that eventually I will be giving a full report on Crowfall, something I didn’t expect I would ever do.

Something Something Mortal Online Weather. No comment, except a reminder that Mortal Online is one of the best old school-style virtual world MMORPGs that nobody plays, because of the full loot PvP. Sadly I don’t have the time to dedicate to this kind of game (it’s the kind where you have to be able to drop everything in real life to spend hours dealing with things in the game).

Truthfully I haven’t read much news this week because I’ve been too busy playing Fallout 4. It’s entirely possible I’ve missed a huge story that everyone else is talking about.