I have seen a few posts from various bloggers about how bad 2009 was for MMOs. Personally I do not quite agree. For me personally there were more interesting new titles released in 2009 than in 2008. But also considerations for a good/bad year should include existing games as well – new expansions and changes, different price and payment models etc.
Thoughout 2009 I have played/tried a few different MMO or MMO-type games:
City of Heroes/Villains, Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, Chronicles of Spellborn, Runes of Magic, Jade Dynasty, Project of Planets, Zero Online, Vendetta Online, Pirate Galaxy, Champions Online, Saga of Ryzom, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Fallen Earth, World of Kung Fu, Twelve Sky 2, Age of Conan, EVE Online, Shin Megami Tensei, FusionFall Online, GhostX – perhaps a few others also that I have forgotten about. Some of these would be an emphasis on tried rather than played though – for various reasons I barely completed the tutorial on some.
While otherwise limited in content updates, I loved when NCSoft/Paragon Studios released Mission Architect for City of Heroes/Villains. A really great feature! It was however plagued with being exploited by some and also in a sense too successful – too many story arcs and less than adequate search tools initially caused some trouble. While it is used by players today, it has perhaps not created the subscriber success that some may have hoped for. Still, it is an important step in making an innovative approach to MMO content a reality. I think that was one of the major milestones of 2009.
With the exception of Guild Wars, most of the fantasy titles I only played for short periods of time. Sometimes a bit grindy and with no special love for the fantasy genre, I gre tired of most of them quickly. Guild Wars has been lots of fun though – partially because it is a good game, but also very much due to the people of Tuesday Noob Club. Not played much lately though and the combination of real life schedule and lack of excitement for fantasy titles has contributed to that.
Just as I managed to totally avoid Warhammer Online last year I also totally avoided Aion this year, and World of Warcraft as usual. There simply has not been any compelling eason to consider playing either of the games.
Champions Online has received the bulk of my play time lately and for good reason – it is an excellent and fun game if you just want to mess around a bit, blow off some steam and get your mind of real life issues, just for a short bit. It is a good complement to other games or other activities.
I think most of the games I have played or tried I have not written much about – which is not to say that there are bad games. Sometimes it has just been bad timing, or some technical issue. I am glad that I have at least tried a fair number of games and see more of what is out there, rather than just focus on a few new Western subscription-based titles and live on the hope that the next big title with be it.
I decided to just put up a post with various small notes and items all blended together.
NCSoft has announced that they are selling additional slots for Mission Architect story arcs. I would buy more slots, even though I think they are a bit pricey. But they are not available yet as far as I can see. They do not seem to have put much effort into the already defined venues of allowing people to get more story arcs slots – Developer’s Choice and Hall of Fame. The latter is depending on player votes though, but they (NCSoft/Paragon Studios) do set the rules and conditions.
Reading some forums for MMOs that are in the pure micro transaction payment model, I find some parts a bit fascinating. While the type of discussions are pretty similar to any MMO forum, the games that comparisions are made with can be quite different from when you read a subscription-based MMO forum. It is almost as if there are two quite distinct groups of MMO players which only on occasion play the same games.
What is better, story or social interaction? Looking at a few of Western MMOs they have in some cases a large focus on trying to provide some interesting combat and a related story. But the mechanics and systems in place for social interactions (guilds/clans, friend lists, party search, community oriented activities etc) are in many cases more weak. Some Eastern MMOs have more grindy and boring combat and stories in comparision, but at least some have more developed mechanics for social interactions in comparision. Is that a result of more PvP focused gameplay or more general focus on social interaction?
In City of Heroes/Villains one of my heroes (Tsu Hon, martial arts/regen scrapper) is getting close to max level. I have not played much of the high level hero-side content, but decided to follow a few of the regular story arcs there. Some of the missions provided by contacts Tina and Unai have some real head-banging qualities – I would really like to bang my head against the wall rather than play those missions. It was a relief to be able to head to Architect Entertainment for some alternative missions.
I recently reactivated an EVE Online account of mine. I have two and this time I managed to remember what my first account was. It had been deactivated January 2nd, 2004. In my mailbox I had some unread emails from late summer/autumn of 2003, my character seemed to be member of a company I did not recall joining. I have not actually started playing yet, not sure if I am going to do something with my old character or just keep him in retirement.
I happened to take a look at XFire statistics for played games and noticed that EVE actually had climbed up to me #2 among MMO-type games, pushing Guild Wars down to the 3rd spot. Looking at the details there is a significant boost in number of hours played, from about 10000 hours per day to something between 30000 and 40000 hours from the middle of December.
The number of users playing are still lower than Guild Wars though and people seem to put on average almost 5 hours per day. Is it the winter event or something else? Neither Warhammer Online or Lord of the Rings Online are close to EVEs (or Guild Wars’) numbers when it comes to XFire usage.
One of the things that often pop up on the wish lists for MMORPGs is that actions that you should be able to affect the state of the world, to be able to make a mark somehow.
Few games get close to fullfilling that request, basically only sandbox-type games like EVE may aspire to at least partially fulfill that wish.
Part of the problem here is that changed content = new content, which somehow must be produced. There is no chance game companies can keep up with the players in this regard. So what solutions are there – should all content be player created and player managed? Do we need a Second Life-type environment?
Another possible option could be to set a definite end to the game world. I.e. the game world will change according to some criteria and player actions and at some point it is done. At that point it could basically start all over again, from scratch. The game developers do not have to create entirely new all the time, they can run the game again, perhaps with some additions and changes.
And those changes could be to both areas, content and/or game mechanics. Not huge changes, but perhaps enough to allow for some different types of progression.
E.g. a Highlander MMORPG – the world is moving forward in time, the immortals fight each other and when there is only one left the game ends – and starts again from scratch. Now there would probably be some challenges with a Highlander game close to the original, since people might not enjoy getting killed early and drop out of the game for example.
Another idea might be alternate reality type environments. Each round of playing represents one slightly different setting and different conditions. There are plenty of examples in litterature of both subtle and significant changes.
A Tale in the Desert have applied this concept and that game has been running a few rounds now. While that particular game itself may not be for everyone, the idea behind a definite end and start of the MMORPG has a certain appeal.
Some continuity should still be there and keep player connections between rounds, in whatever ways one has added support for guilds, teams, chat organisation etc.
Just by allowing the game to actually have an end the game developers could try different mechanics and options to affect and change the play styles possible. This might get players a bit closer to the dream of an everchanging world in which they play a siginficant part.
As a lot of other bloggers have added their take on top 10 MMOGs inspired from the thread at F13.net, I decided I’d put in some comments in the same spirit here. I don’t read those forums normally, so I did not jump in and register. I found the different motivations people wrote more interesting than the actual order and who put in their votes – I am sure there are a couple of celebrities in the game world there judging by interest sparked for this particular list, but I did not notice.
The motivations are interesting since it shows in my opinion it is a bit difficult to get some coherent criteria that everyone would agree with, making such list pretty much useless (as it also says in the original post) for anyone outside to get a good view of what game is better than another.
Worth noting is that the only game in the top 10 that is actually reasonably new is Lord of the Ring Online and 7 of 10 are fantasy MMOGs.
My own top 10, which is pretty much all MMOGs I have played for at least 2 months:
- City of Villains/Heroes
This is the game I played played actively the longest (almost 19 months and counting), mostly on villain side. It is not the most feature rich game, but what has been implemented usually works well. Best character creator I have seen so far, separation of looks and character abilities, good variety in powerset selection, great mechanics to enable people to team with each other and good fun fast-paced combat in groups.
It gets a bit grindy at times (big hurdle around level 30) and there is a lot of similar content. Good content updates that comes at regular intervals without extra cost. I have loads of characters in this game and enjoy most of them. Played witha good group of people here which definitely contributed to the enjoyment of this game.
- World of Warcraft
Second longest game I have played, spent around 11 months, got 1 character to top level, which was 60 at the time and a bunch of alts in 30-50 range. Fun to explore, solid content. Main reason for staying that long was the guild I was in and when that fell apart my interest in the game pretty much vanished. Among the least amount of annoyment factors in a game that I have played, which is one reason it is high up in list. Decent mixture of skills in the different classes.
- Final Fantasy XI
Spent around 8 months in this game. Loved the concept of jobs and subjobs, did not like that some combinations there where pretty much forced in practice. Hated the camping. Loved the cutscenes, some of the story line and the general feeling of a dangerous world. Fighting my first dragon there was a rush like I barely had in any other game. I loved the beastmaster job. Did not really like the forced grouping in certain areas at certain levels, which which was abonus for the beastmaster – that did not really apply in that case. Had good fun with the BCNM fights (Burning Circle Notorious Monster) I was in. The linkshell I was in was good at the beginning, but after the general maturity and common ground with the other members faded, the interest in the game also faded.
- Everquest 2
Lots of features, some nice storylines and mixed graphics – some great some so-and-so. Loved Brigand and Coercer and had some decent fun with some other classes also, highest got to mid 40s (brigand). Have played the game in 4-5 periods, total time perhaps 8-9 months. Too much master spell farming and grouping for XP for my liking.
- Star Wars Galaxies
Mainly for the game as it was during the first 5-6 months, to a bit after player cities was introduced. This was a time where many higher level creatures could be considered dangerous. Loved the skill-based structure, hated the grinding necessary for some of these skill trees. Hated the one character per server restriction. Loved the versality in classes, crafting mechanics although did not like htat you pretty much had to be a master crafter to make any money on your work (and the grind to get there). Ended up as a ranger/creature handler eventually and I loved the pet handling, collecting pets and raising them and go hunting for material that I sold later. Player cities was an intersting concept, but I thought it actually destroyed a bit of the game and later changes destroyed it more. Never was interested in getting into Jedi.
- Anarchy Online
My first MMOG. Spent perhaps 10-11 months in total there over multiple periods. Have all the expansions, but has not really touched much beyond the original game content. Had plenty of alts, only a few got above level 50. Due to real life circumstances (i.e. work), my first 10 months in the game was mainly a couple of hours each weekend, the only time I was home in Sweden. Great mood setting in some areas and good fun back then. Cannot really back into the game nowadays though.
- Tabula Rasa
The game has not been out after release for 2 months yet, but I also played some in beta. Great combat and immersive environment, good storyline. Crafting is a bit crappy at the moment and some of the mission bugs gets annoying. Playing it with a good bunch of people, which adds to the fun. If I make this list again in a couple of months I suspect this game will be ranked higher. I just need to put some of the games I played for a longer time ahead of it, the postion is rather low due to the short time it has been around. A couple of months from now it may be in top 3.
- Earth & Beyond
My second MMOG and the first game in space, played for maybe 9-10 months. I loved the concept of a changing world and the grand story arc and the first 30-40 levels had some nice missions and story lines in addition to the story arc. Combat with space creatures was fun. Crafting was ok, trading part (a chat channel) was horrendous. A lot of the time towards level 150 was one of the worst grinds I have had in an MMOG, which lowers its position.
- EVE Online
Wanted to really like this game and have a complement to Earth&Beyond initially. Played in two periods, totalling maybe 2-3 months. Never got into a company I liked and after a while space felt a bit empty. I like a number of the game mechanics and it is a bit stimulating, but not so much fun after a while. Probably would have worked out better with a good company.
- Lord Of the Ring Online
Pretty game environment, some of the start quests and the main story arc was good. After a while it felt really uninspiring and grindy, quests, combat and pretty much everything except the environment itself. Highest character got to mid/high 20s, loremaster. left after about 2 months, even though I had bought a pre-order with 6 months subscription.
Some of the positions here is pretty much impossible for me even to agree with myself and if I am asked again in a short while some of the positions may change. And if I was asked about a list of games I would like to play now and order them, it would be a quite different list. It is a rather futile attempt at comparing my enjoyment and frustration at different periods in time when it comes to MMOGs.
Zones in MMOGs can be annoying – at least when passing from one zone to the other and the games shows some zone loading screen. Games like World of Warcraft has removed annoyance factor from the user experience and the world appears seamless, regardless of the actual structure beneath – the technological borders are more hidden and there are no zone loading screens.
The many worlds/realms/shards that exists for many of the popular MMOG titles can also be an annoyance factor. If you and your friends have not created your characters in the same world, you cannot play together. If people can all synchronize within their groups where to play, then it all works out. But often people may not be that synchronized – one may start to play at different times and perhaps not knowing about each others characters initially.
Some games provide a character transfer service for a fee, which at least partially can accomodate such issues. But if there are multiple friends spread out on a number of servers, chances are slim that all these people may synchronize their location, especially if they belong to different guilds and groups in each world. And with some people you might just want to play a bit every now and then, but might not be that frequent to movivate a transfer from one world to another.
Games like EVE Online and Guild Wars essentially provide one world experiences and basically everyone playing the game could hook up with each other. These games have lots of zones or instances of zones though, again technical borders showing themselves.
If you had a choice of a seamless world experience, but many isolated copies of that world, or a single world experience with many zones, what would you choose? All other things being equals.
Personally I think I would definitely go for the one world experience, unless the zoning was really annoying. The ability to hook up with anyone anywhere is worth more than a slightly better world immersion.
In practice all other things are not equal, so how important would these factors be – seamless world multiples copies, or one world with zones?Many MMOGs today does not provide either option – they have experienced zone borders and they have multiple isolated copies of their worlds.
One might also ask – why would I have to choose between them, why can’t I have the best of both worlds? So far, as with much else, the current technology sets limits and compromises will have to be made. But technology advances also and what was not possible a couple of years back or was not commercially viable then might be more viable today or in a near future.
When it comes to technological advances in massive scale distributed computing, a number of the MMOG companies like SOE, NCSoft and Blizzard have likely accumulated a fair share of experience in this area, running their games. Their server farms have likely 1000s of computers running their games, with at least a decent amount of uptime and tuned to keep operational costs low.
They are however dwarfed by giants like Google. The Google platform were at some point estimated by external sources to consist of over 450000 servers. Looking at the type of people working at Google, research papers they have published etc one might conclude they have a fair amount of smart people in the area of distributed computing. While initially being just a search engine, they are expanding in other areas and providing other services that takes advantage of their immense distributed platform.
I would not be surprised if Google at some point turns their eye towards online gaming and the MMOGsphere. If anyone has the means to set up a platform for hosting games on a really massive scale it is them. They probably do not have all the know-how of all the old players in the field, but what they don’t have they can probably buy.