With the recent news about LOTRO going “free to play” that seem to have started some discussions in other subscription-based MMO forums about the risk/chance of their MMO of choice doing the same thing. In some places there is a fair amount of negativity against the whole “free to play” thing.
However, worth noting is that currently for DDO and later for LOTRO Turbine does not remove the subscription option for the games – Turbine adds the F2P option and changes the subscription option.
By introducing the F2P option they have also made it possible to make the subscription option more valuable to a larger audience.
In the old model, which most subscription-based MMOs use today, your value from the subscription is not easily seen. There is generally no statement or promise what kind of updates is included in the fee and about the only guarantee is that the game is for the most part available to play.
But in DDO and later now LOTRO the subscription becomes more clear in what you actually get for your money. You do not only get the access to the game, you get other stuff that is more explicitly spelled out. And you get Turbine points. This means that players can choose for themselves what to do with these points from what is offered, rather than implicitly pay for content that may not matter so much to them. If you do not play that often you still gather the Turbine points for use later if you pay the subscription fee. While I did not see anything in the LOTRO FAQ, I hope that Turbine points are also interchangeable between DDO and LOTRO. That way one could pay a subscription for one of the games and get Turbine points that benefit for both games.
I have seen comments that DDO subscription numbers (i.e. people paying $15/month) increased after they changed DDO. I am not surprised. They have provided more payment options to players and made the existing one valuable and worth paying to a larger audience than before. And at the same time they have also lowered the barrier of entry and re-entry to the game.
Those who argue about F2P vs subcription as two distinct and the only two options are missing the point.
So it has been announced that Lord of the Rings Online is going “free to play”. Good for them, if it works out. It does not make me want to play it, so I am more interested in the impact it may have on other publishers and developers.
How does this affect CodeMasters? They have been the European operator for both DDO and LOTRO as pay-to-play games. After DDO changed its business model I did at one time try to get the new DDO through the European DDO site. But looking at that site there was no “free to play”, just the normal subscription thing as far as I could see.
So of course I jumped over to Turbine’s own site instead. In LOTROs case though they seem to be part of the picture in some way, will they get a percentage of items sold in the store?
If this attempt is successful as well I do hope that other subscription-based games will look more into this approach, games that might struggle a bit with keeping many regular subscribers, but which could potentially do well with a lower barrier of entry (waves to Cryptic, Paragon Studios and SOE).
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.
Last Friday I decided to cancel my LOTRO subscription; I do not play it often and I have found it so-and-so overall when playing, so I decided to take a break from it for now.
So fo course I logged on to my Codemasters account, found the LOTRO entry entry and selected cancel and then selecting Yes for the “are you really sure?” question.
I was stupid enough to think that was the only thing I had to do. I got redirected in my browser to ClickAndBuy home page after this. ClickAndBuy is the company that charges my credit card for LOTRO on behalf of Codemasters.
Since I had not noticed anything pointing out why I was redirected there I ignored that – which I should not have done. Two days later I get an email from ClickAndBuy that they have charged me for another subscription period…
When complaining to them that I had actually cancelled my subscription, they say that I have to log in at ClickAndBuy to cancel it.
So I decide to log in to Codemasters again to check the status of the account and it is active there! I cancel again, answer Yes to the “are you really sure?” question again and when I get redirected to ClickAndBuy home page I login there. I do find a subscription entry for LOTRO, which I cancel.
And now, when I log back in to the Codemasters account I see that the subscription is cancelled there also.
Maybe there was some place where it was written that the subscription had to be cancelled in two locations; if the ClickAndBuy option would be sufficient, why have have a cancel choice at all and not just a redirect to ClickAndBuy directly? This is the first time I had to go to two places to cancel one subscription. Would it have been too much to ask for big red letters to notify about the unusual procedure?
It was not any big money lost since I only had the 1-month recurring option in this case; usually I tend to go for the 3-month or 6-month options when subscribing to MMOs, but not in this case.
Oh well, live and learn.
This weekend I had some game time spent in three games, City of Heroes, Lord of the Rings Online and Runes of Magic. The latter two has the fantasy setting and the “kill ten boars” type of quests in common, while the first and last have a quite casual feeling in common.
In City of Heroes I decided to play my controller Frieda and found when logging on one of my in-game friends that do not play so often being there. We decided to team up and he brought one of his favourite characters at the moment, a werewolf type tanker at level 11.
Soon after teaming up I got a tell asking if I wanted to join a group of other 43s (Frieda was level 43). I said that I was sorry, but was already temed up with a friend playing a low level character. And the response was “bring him along also if you want, we have space for more”.
And this is one of the great things about this game – both that the ability is there for someone at a low level to easily team up with high level characters, but also that the community is often supportive for that type of team play. No arguments about have a specific profile for the character or being at a specific level. The more the merrier is rather the attitude often and which is one reason I really like this game.
Setting and accomplishing goals, even if no-one else knows about them, is an important part of the gaming experience I think. My current playlist consists of four different MMOs and the goals for each tend to vary a bit:
City of Heroes/Villains: My longest running game so far, 31 months and counting. While I have not experienced everything on the villain side, I have played through a large part of it and many times also. There is not really anything that keeps me playing for too long on that side, except to have some fun with friends who want to play on villain side. There is also a bit of a meta-goal: to get all my dominators to max level. A long time ago I set up a goal to get all the dominator pets and consequently I also created dominators covering all powerset options available. That goal was reached long ago. Dominators are still my favourite archetype and as long as there were other interesting content and goals to be set, I usually played it with a dominator.
Today I have 4 dominators at max level and 2 more around 40 (39 + 43). But without any other plausible goals on villain side may possibly not get the dominators to max level – I will certainly not grind my way there just to get some level.
On hero side it is easier, since I have not played that much and there are still zones and areas I have barely touched yet. However, with a controller at 41 this part may fade a bit. If I can jump into the game and team up with some friends I absolutely jump in and play, because that is an area CoX excels in. But there is little else currently driving my play.
Guild Wars: This game I think it absolutely brilliant in its design. Not only does it have excellent story content and very little grind type content. It also provides all sorts of added challenges and pieces to help set goals both for PvE and PvP. The story-driven content is very much in what is called cooperative missions, with some quests sprinkled in between them (and not grindy “kill X boars”). Each of the cooperative missions have a base requirement for completion, but also a master/bonus requirement, which typically is a bit harder to reach. There are also other types of missions which provides high score type gaming, PvP etc. Combine all that with the excellent skill system which provides a lot of freedom to mix and combine skills to fit the current challenge – there is no one size fits all. And if the story lines are completed that unlocks hard mode, which could be compared to heroic/elite mode of content in some other games – and that is all mission content and all zones.
Add to this a number of titles that can be strived for that actually have some meaning or a sense of accomplishment; e.g. survivor titles that is earned if the character does not die at all, protector titles for completing master levels of all cooperative missions, explorere titles for actually visiting and seeing a large part of the zones and the different areas in those zones. The game makes it very easy to set various goals and I always tend to have at least a few different ongoing goals. Finding motivation to play has not really been an issue – everything from experiencing the story arcs, exploring the beautiful world, trying out new some new skill combos or play styles, working towards some title etc.
The Chronicles of Spellborn: Two pieces are driving here – the neat combat system and the interesting setting and environment. The combat system is quite different from other MMOs – not the regular button-mashing type, but which requires a bit more presence and thought sometimes. In a way it pushes similar buttons (pardon the pun) that Guild Wars’ skill system does – provide room for improvement and encouraging some experiementation on that path.
The setting and the lore of the Spellborn world is another driving factor. Exploring and learning more about the world is absolutely a significant set of goals here. While the quest system does not have a huge amount of quests and some of them are of the “kill X boars” type, it also provides number of quests with enjoyable stories – perhaps exposng and learning more of the lore of the workd, or perhaps some comical twist. Perhaps because there are not so many quests those that are good and is worth remembering stand out easier. While I might rank Guild Wars higher in terms of quest quality I still think Spellborn does a farily good job. Even with some kill and fedex quests I still am interested in doing more, since the already completed quests have been good enough overall for me to want to go for more.
However, the whole split of the European market and some current bugs and misfeatures does dampen the will to play a bit right now. So I am waiting a bit to see what happens. I will still be paying for the game even if I not play; it has enough potential that I do not want this one to vanish due to lack of paying customers.
Lord of the Rings Online: This is my black sheep. The game is easily the prettiest MMO that I have seen and the epic story line seems nice and interesting enough. While there are a lot of different ways to advance your character in the game, too much of it feels like it is some kind of grind to get to the goals and getting there may not be that interesting. I certainly do not feel any sense of accomplishment for being awarded just having used a certain skill 500 times, or killed X number of some certain type of enemy, which I might almost do blind-folded as long as I remember which buttons to press.
I do want to like the game and and find things to drive my play time in there. But I struggle with this to find enough that do not feel grindy and feel worthwhile.
Lately I have been playing four different games: Chronicles of Spellborn, Lord of the Rings Online, City of Heroes and Guild Wars. Alternating between the games have worked out rather well so far and some direct comparisions are inevitable.
In Chronicles of Spellborn I currently play Wolf, a trickster (level 15) which is a rogue type class. Tricksters speciality is to use gadgets to trigger certain effects, e.g. cause enemies to loose concentration, additional damage etc. There are a number of different skills to distract enemies, become more evasive and also get increased damage if the enemy is backstabbed. One skill to aid there also is a teleport spell, which instantly transports you behind the currently faced enemy. It is a bit tricky to get right to get the full effect of a follow-up backstab. But all in all there is a number of neat skills to play around with.
Spellborn is played in a post-apocalypic world where the remains of civilisation lives on/in big chunks of rock with its own atmosphere, called shards. The shards float around in the Deadspell Storm. Starting characters start on the Parliament shard and from there continue to other shards, as well as travel back. Each shard has a number of zones. It is a fantastic setting and there is a lot of lore and learning about the world as one progresses with different quests.
The game itself is a bit different than many current MMOs; in particular the combat system takes a quite different approach. I think it is brilliant; it is fairly easy to understand, but will require practice to become good with it. While I thimk I probably suck a bit here in combat I find it fun to use and get quite happy the times when it actually flows quite well in combat.
While there is a number of traditional type of “kill X boars” and delivery type quests, some quest chains actually have some neat story elements in them and a mix of activities in them which are not always obvious. I have found these quite enjoyable and a number of them also tells a bit more about the world of Spellborn and its inhabitants. In the beginning quests do not give that much fame (experience points in Spellborn), but increases significantly after the first 8-9 levels.
Equipment itself does not really matter for you characters, it is mainly for looks. Some equipment have slots for sigils (similar to enhancements in City of Heroes) which effectively act as permanent boosters similar to what is added to equipment in other MMOs. The added boosts are not that big though as far as I have seen so far, so it will not make a big impact – at least not in the lower levels. Sigils are of two types – item sigils and skill sigils. The latter can be added to specific skills to boost just that skill, while item sigils will boost everything that is related to that boost.
There is a somewhat simplistic crafting system in place – if you loot a broken item you can visit a forge and ask for a recipe to repair the item. You will then get a list of necessary resources to collect/obtain to repair it. If you have all resources you can get the item repaired at the forge for a fee.
The game is a bit old school:ish and does lack some features that other recent games has, but in a way they also restore a bit of that you actually has to but a bit of effort in what you do and makes the game more involved and engaging than other click-push-button-kill-next-quest type MMOs. There is a fine line here between more involved/engaging and perhaps frustrating game play though.
The game currently has some shortcomings in its feature and there are some bugs in the quests and other places that causes some trouble. While most of the quests do not indicate that teams are needed, not everything is easily soloable. But much of the content that is challenging for a solo player is doable for a duo and likely easy for 3 persons. The max team size of 4 is only required for very few quests – at least as far as I have seen so far. This is pretty much only quests where one has to make an assult on a big camp of enemies and/or take out a boss in a camp or something similar.
There is also not so many people around in the game; or at least not noticeable. I do think though that it has increased somewhat lately.
Despite any shortcomings it is a game I want to log back in to and play; at least when I can set aside at least 1 1/2 – 2 hours for it.
About a week ago I decided to have a look again at Lord of the Rings Online. This was a game that I pre-ordered and got the founder’s 6 month option for, but stopped playing after 2 months.
What destroyed the game for me then was too much grind elements (resource grind, kill grind), uninspiring quests (too many kill X boars type of quests) and camping/spawn competition for the mobs/resources necessary for that grind.
I did however really like the setting and the mood elements that was part of the environment. While I do have read J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels (and not just Lord of the Rings), I cannot say that I am a Tolkien fan or even a fantasy fan – I read a lot of fantasy in pre-teens and teens, but that stopped later. With the exception of Terry Pratchett the number of fantasy books I have read in the past 20-25 years can probably be counted on my fingers. So I cannot say that the setting fitting with J.R.R. Toolkien’s work has a big impact for my enjoyment of the game. Nice, but not much more than that.
I decided to jump in the game with one of the new classes introduced with the Mines of Moria expansion – the nuker/healer combo of the Rune-keeper and the need to balance each side properly sounded quite interesting to try out.
For many people, inlcuding myself, a good background story and story content is an important aspect of an MMORPG. So why the headline?
Let me qualify “good story” a bit; that is that a game company developed story is a prominent feature of the game and with some thought to hold various elements in the world toghether by the story. You have to put in an effort to compltely avoid the story, if you wanted.
Tabula Rasa is a recent example, Earth & Beyond was another game with some serious story telling ambitions. LOTRO is another one in the fantasy genre.
The story experience if often considered weaker in MMORPGs though compared to single player games. In single player games, the player is the big hero or center of attention – this is not the case in MMORPGs.
The story telling is however not much different from single player games. At any given moment a single player can experience the story by himself/herself. He/she may need help at certain stages to overcome certain difficulties but in essence much of the story telling is just directed to a single player – no element of the story changes regardless of the number of players involved, only the amount and diifculty of some enemies in the path of the story.
Thus I think the story telling currently works better to support solo play experience, sometimes spiced up with some added support by other players. It does not support a core multiplayer experience, at least not well.
And for longevity of a player experience in an MMORPG, the multiplayer part needs to work. This can of course be accomplished by other means, but the story as it is now does not do that much to contibute to it. Rather it makes the solo experience better/good/more bearable. With a too strong story element in comparision to other features of the game, the game is going to hurt. To some extent like in single player games, players are going to feel some kind of completion when a story is followed through. And that may make the game feel “empty” and people may end up quitting.
Compare the games above to games like World of Warcraft, City of Heroes/Villains and Everquest 2, to take a few. The latter 3 all have a strong background story element, but the story element is a bit more hidden and a less prominent part of the player experience. I think this provides for a better foundation for longevity of the game as it is now.
And then there is EVE Online of course. Not much story at all provided by CCP, but very much so by the players themselves and very much a multiplayer story telling. And for those who get into EVE it seems to last quite well.
So how can the story telling be improved? Does it have to be player created content only, like in EVE? Or can game companies create story telling on a multiplayer scale and will that keep players playing longer due to the story?
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.