ArcheAge – Post-Mortum

I’m determined to sit here and write a complete blog post.

Inspired somewhat by j3w3l’s recent post, I’ve been thinking about ArcheAge. Thinking, that is, but not playing, because my work schedule has been ramping back up and ArcheAge is not a game you can play when you only have a little bit of time to play it. Not to mention the possibly-related fact that I’ve lost interest in it. I still log into ArcheAge once or twice a week to make sure my taxes are paid and to stockpile more tax certificates, but that’s about it. (Why they changed it to let you pay taxes with labor points I’ll never know.) I slaughtered my geese and haven’t planted any new fruit trees after they mysteriously disappeared one day. (I’m not entirely sure that someone or something wasn’t messing with my geese, too–I logged in several times to find them in various stages of fed/unfed/starving/recovering, and I’m quite certain I didn’t do any of it.)

This is about the only thing I see in ArcheAge anymore--the mailbox, where I pay my taxes.
This is about the only thing I see in ArcheAge anymore–the mailbox, where I pay my taxes.

Did I get my money’s worth out of ArcheAge? Probably not. I impulsively plunked down $150 for the Alpha Access however long ago that was. In World of Warcraft terms, that should have been 10 months of gameplay, but I certainly haven’t played ArcheAge for 10 months and can’t imagine doing so. I’d guess I got 4 or 5 months of decent gameplay out of it, before and after launch. That’s pretty good for an MMO these days, but not quite $150 worth of good. I’m not ruling out ever going back to ArcheAge, but I certainly won’t go back after my Patron status runs out … whenever. I have no clue when that will happen. The login screen says December 20 but it’s been wrong several times before.

Do I regret spending that $150? Not exactly. I still think I made an informed decision. I knew I was going to like the game. From my experience with the Russian version, I knew exactly how ArcheAge played and what state it was in (ie. finished except for the text), so it wasn’t like Landmark where I spent money without knowing what kind of game I was going to get. But I think I underestimated how much of a time sink that ArcheAge was going to be, and I just can’t sustain that for long.

Then there are the exploits and the apparent rampant incompetence of XLGames (I see Trion as having their hands tied). ArcheAge reminds me quite a lot of the early days of Ultima Online. Early UO was riddled with bugs and exploits that went on and on and on. As soon as one exploit got fixed, five new ones popped up. And these were big time exploits, too. Duping and teleportation and such. If UO were released today in the state it was back then, it would be laughed off the market. Which is more-or-less exactly what is happening to ArcheAge right now. (Although weirdly, ArcheAge queries to my blog vastly outnumber any other game queries, so based on that highly unscientific measurement, the market still has plenty of demand for it.)

It’s a shame because there is a very good core of a game there. I think it has a good balance of PvP and PvE. But I feel like the game isn’t quite finished yet. It needs a sequel. It needs a graphics engine update and an update to whatever underlying system is so vulnerable to exploits, and it needs a slew of tweaks to the gameplay. It needs a longer leveling curve and a shorter profession leveling curve. It needs more solo gameplay options and objectives. It needs more responsiveness so you don’t feel like you get killed by latency half the time. (Guild Wars 2 is the new standard for responsiveness in MMO gameplay, in my opinion.) And it goes without saying that it needs a lot more rigorous quality control.

Most of all it needs to decide whether it’s free-to-play or not. Right now, it’s not. You have to have Patron status to play the game as it’s intended. To me, that means it’s effectively a subscription game. (I feel the same about SWTOR. You can’t play that game without a subscription to remove all the restrictions. I mean, you can’t even use a frickin’ healing potion/stim/injection/whatever? Seriously?*) And unfortunately, it’s not the best subscription game on the market right now. (I would subscribe to SWTOR before I subscribed to ArcheAge.)

  • UPDATE: Oops I recently discovered this problem was not due to a free-to-play restriction but rather due to me somehow having the ‘H’ key bound to both a hotbar action and opening a window. Sorry SWTOR. Even so, it still plays much better with a subscription. :)

PvE, PvP, and Racing

The topic of discussion from the NBI Talkback is whether or not PvE and PvP mix in MMOPRGs. At long last I have some time to write about it, now that everyone else has moved on.

Racing cars

The answer is no, they don’t mix. Thanks for reading.

But seriously, we’ve all seen the sharp divide between the PvE and PvP communities within any given MMORPG. In my opinion, it’s not because of the games or the players. The problem to me is that PvE and PvP require two entirely different competitive mindsets.

Competition is the basis of all games at some level, but there are different kinds of competition. Sometimes you are competing with yourself, such as when you play solitaire. Sometimes you are competing with other people, individually or in teams, such as when you are bowling or ski jumping. And sometimes you are competing against other people, such as when you play tennis or volleyball.

To further illustrate the different kinds of competition, I will use a weird racing metaphor.

I’m told that there are people in the world who participate in activities that aren’t on computers, so imagine driving cars as a sport. Let us assume that this is analogous to the “sport” of playing MMORPGs.

At the most basic level, you can enjoy the sport of car racing by getting in a car and driving down a road. You enjoy the wind whipping through your hair on a sunny day. You enjoy listening to the radio. You don’t care if someone in a Maserati passes you at the speed of sound. You don’t care if you have to swerve around an old man with his blinkers on. You just like going fast. You’re not competing with anyone. You are a casual PvE player.

As you get more serious about your car racing, you might start to care about how fast you’re going. Maybe you want to try racing on a track. So you go down to the local race track on the weekend and drive 10 laps in your car. You do this every weekend, and start to record how long it takes each time. You start to compare your times from weekend to weekend to see if you’re getting better or worse. You’re competing against yourself. Maybe you put on better tires or replace your carburetor to go faster. You’re still a PvE player, but maybe you’ve installed a DPS meter and you’re trying to play as best you can. I think the unofficial name for you is a “midcore” player.

Now you want to take your racing to the next level. You start to enter some time trials with other drivers. Each driver takes a turn at the track and does their best. In the end, you compare the times and the fastest one is declared the winner and gets a cash prize. You’re technically competing with other people, but you’re not racing with other people. You’re still a PvE player, but now you’re in a hardcore raiding guild and you’re trying to beat all the other guilds to the world firsts.

Finally you decide to enter a real race. Your time trials qualify you for a pole position. (Is that a real thing? I don’t know. :) Now you’re racing against other people on the same track at the same time. Now it doesn’t matter so much how fast you go, just so long as you are ahead of all the other racers at the end. This puts the racers in direct competition against one another. You have to adjust your tactics based on what the other racers are doing in real-time. Now you’ve become a PvP player, albeit of the more casual sort, playing in battlegrounds.

If you’re still not satisfied, you might turn to a demolition derby. Now there are no rules, and anything goes. (Sort of.) Now you’re not only trying to beat the other racers, you’re trying to knock them completely out of the race by smashing their cars to bits so they can’t race again tomorrow. Now you’re a more hardcore PvP player, perhaps playing in world versus world events or structured PvP matches.

But wait, there’s more. After the apocalypse, you still need your demolition derby fix. But now there are no more laws, and nobody to enforce them even if there were any. You attach thick, bullet-proof metal plates to your car and sharp spikes to your hubs. You don’t care about competition anymore, you just want to destroy things. You drive into random neighborhoods and start ramming minivans and mopeds, tossing grenades through windows and blowing vehicles into flaming fragments, shooting at defenseless people walking by on the street. You join a gang and terrorize whole towns together. Now you’ve gone as far as you can in an MMORPG: You’ve gone into open-world, full loot PvP, and you probably play EVE or you think Ultima Online was the greatest MMO ever made.

Hrm. That metaphor works, right? Well, it’s something along those lines.

I don’t mean to say there’s anything wrong with PvE or PvP. The point is that each of those examples is a different kind of competition with different emotional risks and rewards, and they don’t all appeal to the same group of people. That’s why there isn’t just one kind of racing sport in the whole world. There’s a bunch of different ones. I’m assuming. I’m not much into racing.

Yet modern MMORPG games typically try to jam most of those styles of competition into their games, with varying degrees of success. Instead of focusing on one core style of gameplay, they divide their attention across a dozen different styles. Inevitably, something suffers, or the game changes completely when you enter different phases.

For myself, I generally don’t play MMORPGs to compete against other people. I play them to chill out, and competition has the exact opposite effect on me because I must win all the things all the time. Ahem. Honestly I don’t consider PvP in most MMOs to be a legitimate form of competition anyway, because there is almost never a level playing field on which to compete. It’s always a competition of group size. And if you’re unlucky enough to be stuck in an even 1-on-1 matchup, it’s mostly a competition of class stun abilities and gear. (I am coming from a Quake background, where everyone had the same abilities and gear and there was no crowd control except when you hit the floor at someone’s feet with a rocket and bounced them across the room, like God intended.)

Did I have a point? I’m not sure any more. I think it’s this: It takes a certain mindset to play PvP, and it is antithetical to the mindset of the typical PvE player. In my opinion, studios should develop one game for PvE, and another game entirely for PvP.

But then I’m not a game publisher trying to keep players and appease shareholders. From a business perspective, you would want all players in your game no matter how they play. So in that case I would keep them separated as much as possible. I would probably go so far as to have PvE classes separated from PvP classes, and you couldn’t go into PvE zones with a PvP character and vice versa. (Like for example at character creation you could make a “Warlock” class that can only level in PvP, or make a “Wizard” class that can only level in PvE. Something like that.)

Many other great thoughts on this topic can be found in these posts:

Co-existence of PvP and PvE

NBI Talkback, pvp-pve mixing!

Memories of PvP!

To PvP or not PvP, that is the Question

And I’m sure many more that I have missed, sorry!