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Rikti invasion days

August 28, 2007 Comments off

After the initial weeks of Issue 10 in City of Heroes/Villains, the Rikti invasion has declined in intensity. Now the RIkti will only invade when either some team completes the Lady Grey Task Force, or during certain days every now and then.

Thoughtful as they are, the Rikti has pre-announced the days they will try to invade earth. I guess they want to make sure they have a good and fair fight? Getting together a team and head out to some of the invaded zones and disabling the Rikti bombs are a nice and decent fun – it typically ends up in a standoff fight where a couple of groups will fight the constantly added forces of Rikti beaming down. Usually fairly intense and good fun for a short time.

The good thing about these events are that characters of all levels can group together, get experience and have a bit of fun, be it that you are level 5 or level 50. It all scales individually to each character. It is fairly short and intense, so there is no need to commit hours to it – set aside maybe 20-30 minutes and it will be enough. If one wants to do more the invasion attemps will go on for about 24 hours, at least for each scheduled invasion day.

Hopefully Cryptic will develop more events and activities in a similar manner.

Categories: City of Heroes

Lack of innovation in innovation debates?

August 27, 2007 2 comments

I recently listened to the Shut up. We’re Talkning. podcast #7, where one of the topics was the lack of revolution or innovation in MMOGs, this time triggered by the guest host PixieStyx blog entry on the topic.

These debates pop up every now and then and to me they are really mainly a place for people to let off a bit of steam because they get a bit bored with the games they are playing at the moment. There is rarely anything new coming up in these:

  • Pretty much everyone agrees with each other
  • Big companies lack innovation, do not want to take chances. Small independent companies are the saviours of gamekind.
  • If anyone points out a new feature in a major game, then it is practically always pointed out that it is not new and that game XYZ had that feature long before.
  • Other types of games are sometimes pointed out as being more innovative areas
  • Sometimes game developers are considered lazy, since innovative design is easy

Coming up with new ideas for game features is easy. Actually creating a good working design that works well and it fun for most players during a long time is a different matter.

The idea for people to get up in the air and fly is a very old idea, thousands of years old. Countless number of people worked on designs to make flying vehicles, including geniuses as Leonardo Da Vinci. Often the Wright brothers are attributed with having created the first successful airplane, although there are claims that other may done that before.

Even after the Wright brothers had their success, flying in an airplane was not an option available to enjoy by most people for many years. Translating our innovation debates to this, we would complain that Boeing and Airbus are not innovative, we see more innovative design and ideas in areas like cars and if they come up with a new feature in their aircraft, then it has already been done by some other – it may not have been in commercially viable aircrafts, but it has been done before anyway, so no points of credit there.

I do not think that there is necessarily that relevant to compare the MMOGs genre with other game genres – the context and general considitions are different. Just because the autopilot functionality has been available for aircrafts for a long time, the general lack of such functionality for cars does not mean that the car industry does not innovate – a solution have different requirements in that area to be workable.

Designing a feature for an MMOG may mean that it should be fun and interesting even after months or even years, since the player might have a more or less constant exposure to that feature. A feature may be fun and interesting for a short while, but how fun is it after long and somewhat constant exposure?

We as human beings need some variation to make things interesting and fun – too much exposure and any bright game feature might fall flat and become old and less interesting. At the same time we do like to have some familiarity and control in what we do. A person complaining about lack of innovation in one sentence may very well like also to raid regularly and may defend that activity against anyone proposing a different view.

I do not believe that big companies are only playing it safe and that small independents are the ones that will innovate the genre. To me, innovation here is not just about getting a great idea, but also making that idea fit and work well in a context and be beneficial/useful/fun for a lot of people. This may happen in both small and big companies. Regardless of size of the company, the MMOG produced will need a bit of that extra in order to compete in a growing market. Why would anyone choose game X if there was nothing particular about it? A few years back the answer might have been “because there are not much else around”, but nowadays there are more and more choices.

Innovative game features and good implementations of those will come from both large and small companies, I believe. The big and old companies have a resource that perhaps is a bit untapped at this point – their older MMOGs.

If you want to experiment and try new ideas, you really do not want to spend a few years of development and $$$$ just to see if a few ideas or concepts seems to work out. If you have an existing game which has been around for a few years, chances are that it has already paid off and it can be kept around even with a relatively low user base – there are a few examples if that. So why not use this existing game platform to try out new ideas?

Perhaps even create experimentation/innovation servers where people can expect new ideas to be tried out and with a different business model to encourage people to play there, different subscription rates, free-to-play, bonuses based on feedback from the players, pay for smaller/optional added packages.

There could of course be technical challenges, in particular if the expereimentation is to try out technical alternatives, but also that some of these games may not have the flexibility in their code to allow such experiementation. And some changes may be too large to be practical. But it is an idea. While I would not make such a server/game my main playtime choice, I think it would be something I would play a bit on a regular basis if I saw fairly frequent updates of experimental content.

Funcom seems to be aiming to try something like this, with their approach to pay for small content updates in Anarchy Online. Maybe if they do start to try out a few different things, that might end up in newer Funcom titles later?

Categories: MMO Games

New online gaming platforms for people?

August 22, 2007 1 comment

Do you play one MMOG, or do you play multiple ones? If you play only one, is that due to lack of time for multiple games, lack of multiple good games to play or simply lack of funds to play multiple games?

MMOGs are becoming more “casual friendly”, which can mean many things. But one thing may be that you do not need to invest a huge amount of time to feel that you get something out of the game – no 4+ hour sessions required, but anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours could be perfectly ok. And also better opportunities to group with friends without necessarily keeping all characters in complete sync.

As this trend continues, which I think it will, the time factor could both introduce more people to MMOGs who previously did not have enough time for them and also provide more options to play multipleMMOGs for those that want that.

There are more and more MMOGs coming out in the market. Some may be crap, but overall the choices for MM playtime are increasing.

Costs may potentially be a bit prohibive with the subscription model that is quite common, but is still not that high compared to other forms of entertainment. Still, lots of free-to-play type games are also introduced, which at least also gives a lower cost of entry, even though the total cost in the end might not be lower.

With all of these trends it would seem quite natural that there will be more people playing more MMOGs and perhaps with less overlap. Many MMOG players would agree that the “people factor” and the socializing in game is an important factor for the staying power of a game.

So why are there then a distinct lack of community tools cross game servers of even cross games? In some MMOGs I cannot even chat with someone unless they play on the same server and even in the same faction on that server. Any interaction has to be through outside means, be it web site forums, voice chat tools and other means.

There are some games that provide a bit better facilities in this regard, for example the SOE games (EQ, EQ2 and SWG at least) allows chat and friend lists to work cross server and cross game. Same goes for City of Heroes/Villains. It is a good start, but is far from what could be done.

A problem here is of course that there are no standards in use here on how to implement and integrate community tools in the MMOG space, at least none that I have seen. And companies may be a bit cautious about letting in the competition or open potential malicious entry points into their environment.

If you use Microsoft Office at work, chances are that you use Outlook and that you have a contact list in there with work related contact at the very least. You may use facilities to synchronize this witha PDA or mobile phone so you always have that info available to you.

So what if you could have friend lists in the MMOGs you play that not only covers specific characters that some persions play on a specific server in a specific game, but all MMOG you play and have played and which could be accessible from any of the games you play? Or from your guilds or your own web site perhaps? Same goes for chat functions of various kinds, info about characters etc.

This is not really something new – in other areas different community tools are available. In the online gaming space there a companies like NCsoft, who are building an online gaming platform, according to their investor reports. This seems to include a couple of different community tools which are already there in the platform and then games can be developed to take advantage of that platform. This is mainly aimed at more casual and less massively multiplayer online games than the MMOGs, but is still a noticeable effort.

Community sites like Guild Café and Curse also try to provide some soem cross game facilities and there are tools like XFire to provide some help to keep track of friends cross games. But this is still many separate efforts and not much around to bind them together or to move information between all these efforts in a seamless or close to seamless way.

My guess is that Raph Koster’s Areae is working on something along those lines, with the talk of combining the worlds of MMOGs with “web 2.0″. They have not provided extensive information yet on what they are up to, but I definitely suspect it is about supporting community building efforts blended in with the game environments.

Personally I am glad that while there is still room for lots of improvements in this area for games to work on, the various online communities that already exist do a significant part to facilitate the socializing parts. One that I am a member of, The Older Gamers, have been a great place to keep in touch and meet (virtually mostly) new people.

Global costs for MMOGs

August 10, 2007 3 comments

Many times when discussing how successful different MMOGs are, different measures of number of players comes up (active accounts, created accounts, subscribers, concurrent players etc), depending on what info the companies provide, business model etc. In this argument it is included that for example in Asia, “everyone” plays the games in PC game rooms/internet cafes.
When games that are successful in multiple regions, it is often said that it costs much less in Asia and in particular China, so that cannot be considered valid measurement – World of Warcraft being a prime example here.

There is seldom any facts presented when such arguments arise, so I decided to do at least a brief check on some numbers here. I checked some numbers reported ny NCSoft, which can easily be found on their website under the Investor Relations section. Using just some numbers from one company is far from any proper study, but at least it is a starting point. NCSoft has a presence in a number of regions and applies a couple of different business models, which makes it an interesting choice. The fact that it is easy to obtain the info does help also…

First, PC game rooms versus home PCs: In Korea, people can both have personal accounts or play from the PC cafes. In the latest quarterly earnings report it seems that approximately 75-80% of the sales for Lineage and Lineage 2 in Korea comes from personal accounts, PC cafes are just 20-25% of the sales. That does not mean that 75% of the actual players have personal accounts – the PC cafes have discounted rates, at least if they have a number of computers or sell a reasonable amount of time usage. But apprently not “everyone” are playing at the PC cafes and most of NCSofts money is coming from those personal accounts.

Looking at what those with personal accounts pay, a monthly fee with unlimited time amounts to 27000 won, which is about $30. So Koreans pay about twice as much as their fellow players in US and Europe if they pay a monthly subscription. They can also choose to pay by the hour, which at best to about $20 for 30 hours. So if a player plays less than 10-12 hours per week, the hourly fee is better, otherwise the monthly fee is the better option.

Looking at some of the other Asian countries, the monthly fee in Japan is near $25 per month for Lineage 2. If you play less than 75 hours per month, an hourly rate may be more beneficial. Taiwan has a monthly fee of around $15 and China’s monthly fee is close to 7-8 dollars. The hourly rates are comparatively low though, and the threshold compared to a monthly fee is at 120 hours per month. So the really dedicated/addicted players might benefit from the monthly fee there, most others probably pay by the hour.

Looking at average disposable income between the countries, the relative cost for Asian players goes up, at least in comparision with the US (look at World Salaries site for some numbers). Playing online games in Asia is in this comparision a more expensive form of entertainment than in the Western world, at least in this limited example.

And looking at absolute players/subscriber numbers for a region like Asia can be deceptive in trying to estimate actual amount of money involved – the price level is not as homogenuos as in the Western regions. Which is not at all surprising, given different levels of industrialization and development.

Given the relatively low monthly rates in the West, paying by the hour may not be an option that will be available anytime soon. But how would the market look like if the monthly fees were changed to a level similar to those in the Asian countries? And would hourly rates be an option people would go for to a higher extent then? And would the play time patterns change?

Categories: MMO Games

Tabula Rasa pre-order

August 10, 2007 Comments off

It seems like the release of Tabula Rasa  is not too far off now  – NCSoft has announced that they have  started shipping pre-order packages to retailers.

Fileplanet is also running a promotion where one can sign up for a “limited playtest” and with Fileplanet running such promotions, then open beta and later release should not be far away.

I am quite eager to see how this game turns out in reality. Not because it is a game from Richard Garriott, but because I like many of the features that has been listed for the game. In fact, I have never played any of the Origin games.

I will probably pick up the pre-order.

Categories: Tabula Rasa

The first final ding

August 6, 2007 1 comment

Tonight, during the Lady Grey Task Force, my plant/thorns dominator Sarek dinged for the final time and hit level 50. I had put sarek on hold for a bit during the week, since I preferred to have the ding happen at some good time grouping with friends, so the task force seemed a good fit.

This was my first character in City of Heroes/Villains to hit level 50 and this was after playing her for about 14 months calendar time, 263 hours of play time.

I still have lots of missions to do with Sarek and more Rikti invasion to fight, so it certainly does not feel like the end, just a different phase. I would not mind if Cryptic could work on to get the Epic villain archetypes in place though :)

As a side note, today on hero side my Baron Nuit reached level 24, which is the highest level I have played a character on hero side so far. So there is also a lot of content on hero side to play.

Categories: City of Heroes

City of Villains/Heroes Issue 10 – a comic view

August 5, 2007 Comments off

Chase Arcanum at Tattered Page has made a brilliant comic book guide describing what is new in Issue 10.  It is available both in PDF as well as hypercomic.

A great guide and in a format that suits the game just perfect! Have a look.

Categories: City of Heroes
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