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Posted: Dec 14th 2010 8:02PM Xanija said

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Sometimes it even starts with things as basic as creating an account and being able to store the payment information. LOTRO was such a candidate, where I first had to create one account for the game and then another one for Click and Buy, dragging me from one page to another. SOE wasn't better at some times. And Customer Service? When it comes to errors at the company which collects the payments? First thing: They ban your account. Even if it was not your mistake at all.

And I agree with you: The MMO Industry has done a lot in order NOT to attract new customers. While Blizzard is far away from being perfect - but they are the ones who understood, that it's not enough just to make games for computer geeks who are willing to read 1001 forum posts from other users to get their problems solved. A lot of other companies out there still have to learn this lesson the hard way.

Posted: Dec 14th 2010 11:02PM Jeromai said

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Amen. Signing up for DDO confused me, tossing me from one page to another with oddly named websites (what was it, myaccount.turbine.com?) , with inexplicable Asheron's Call banners, etc. I had to keep checking and take it on a leap of faith that I was signing up for DDO, not AC. It seemed a bit better signing up for LOTRO but maybe I was either used to it, or they streamlined it for the anticipated crowd.

I'd also point out downloading of humongous patches vs streaming the patch in sneakily as an accessibility gate. For years, Guild Wars was one of the only 'major' MMOs who let you download a comparatively small client and start playing immediately while the rest downloaded in the background. Now at least other MMO companies have figured out that free trials can be downloaded in bite-sized pieces.

Not to mention, the big kahuna WoW has switched from bittorrenting huge patches (big nightmare when your ISP throttles bittorrent) to a staggered green/yellow/red necessary/good-to-have/nice-to-have streaming system for Cataclysm. It is fantastic. Trust Blizzard to copycat all the good ideas eventually.

You know something else that has spoiled me? Steam. Just like how the Playstation will automatically force updates, but even better since it doesn't tie up the entire system. Between surfing to websites to navigate their labyrinth system for filing patches, manually downloading and manually installation, and just letting Steam do it all in the background, I know which I'd prefer.

And I'm computer geek enough to manually install mods and add-ons for indie upon indie games, or edit the registry as needed. I'm just lazy.

If it's too hard to play a game I'm not really interested in, I'm not going to bother. (Cue staring at NCsoft launcher and Aion. I've actually already downloaded the 1.5 to 1.9 manual patch. I can't be arsed to run it yet, knowing there's more patching to go.)

Posted: Dec 14th 2010 11:21PM Jeromai said

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One more factor for MMO accessibility: Server maintenance.

In this, Blizzard scores poorly. Perhaps too many servers. The downtime is immense, at least 4-6 hours, sometimes a day when they do the big patches. Everyone gets to wait and not play WoW and suffer withdrawal shakes.

Short downtimes are great. The more spaced out the better. Guild Wars probably takes the cake at this, I can't remember the last time they had scheduled maintenance. They do it as and when they need to. GW is supersensitive about the fact they have a global audience.

Timezone sensitivity is also important to non-NA timezone players. Nothing like your servers going down regularly for scheduled maintenance 3 hours in the middle of primetime play time. Makes it hard to explain to friends not used to MMOs - um, yeah, this always happens, yeah, we can't play the game we paid for during these times. Friends keep looking at you as if you're crazy.

It's great that some developers will reschedule their maintenance times for EU and Oceanic regions. With some creativity, one can still find a maintenance time within work hours that isn't as disruptive.

Posted: Dec 15th 2010 1:10AM Yukon Sam said

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I had my ups and downs with EVE Online, but one of the things they've done solidly right is to have a dedicated, moderated help channel that all new users land in by default, with paid staffers in the channel almost all the time. That level of service should be the bare MINIMUM standard that all MMOs adhere to. Squelch the newbie-bashing and encourage players to ask questions -- tech questions, lore questions, mechanics questions, whatever. Feeling that some sort of support is there when you need it is a HUGE positive impact on player retention.

Sitting in a queue for two hours waiting for a GM that barely has thirty seconds to either resolve or escalate your issue? Utterly unacceptable.

Posted: Dec 15th 2010 1:10AM MewmewGirl said

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Nothing ruins my fun like dealing with poor customer service.

You know how when you call up those Dell Reps, you know more than they do about computers and have already done everything they *read off a list* and ask you to do and you wonder why you ever contacted them to begin with?

That's how I feel contacting so many people in customer service.

I know more about their own systems, their own games, how these things work than they do. Some ignorant buffoon reads the title of my complaint and replies to that instead of the detailed explanation I've given them in my report.

This happens very often in Free to Play games especially. Even tho *I* am a paying customer that doesn't seem to help much. Half the time these CS reps barely speak English and it makes it even more frustrating trying to explain to them how their own system works and let them know how to help me (shouldn't they already know this?).

If I have fast intelligent help, I give my loyalty to that game and company for a while and am happy to put money into it. Far too often I feel like I'm trying to explain my problem to the Town Idiot.

How they can be so ignorant about their own systems and work in support just confounds me.

Posted: Dec 15th 2010 4:44AM adamb said

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Im having loads of problems at the moment with the LOTRs service desk.... it's been 3 weeks and im still not marching to Mordor. I think the problem is that im not a king of the geeks just a normal bloke and half the feedback/help they send me completely baffles me.
With DConline being playable via a console im starting to consider binning my PC altogether and moving to console games - only time will tell.

Posted: Dec 15th 2010 1:33PM rochrist said

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@Tempes Magus

That's why all the developers are abandoning single player games and trying desperately to build MMOs eh?

Posted: Dec 15th 2010 3:21PM RogerR said

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I think a lot of the acceptance for "working for it" is generational as well, but not in the way many would quickly assume. A lot think of the younger generation of gamers as being the most tech savvy, but I'm willing to bet those who got their first taste of MMO gaming during the BBS and MUDding ages are the most willing to kind of "do whatever it takes" in order to get their digital crack up and running.

In either case, I think it's our collective elders who suffer the most. My mother, nearly in her 60s, is addicted to Facebook gaming - Mafia Wars, Farmville and the like. I've suggested she maybe broaden her horizons a bit and dip a toe into the world of 3D third-person MMO gaming but her fear is that it would be too complicated.

I think it'd be tremendous if the Blizzards, Turbines, Mythics, Cryptics, etc of the world embraced their more casual leanings and started more targeted campaigns toward this demographic...with handy, simple guides on how to get started of course!

Posted: Dec 16th 2010 12:43AM jeremys said

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@RogerR There are actually quite a few elderly WoW players out there. I know WoW insider as featured at least one, and Blizzard devs have spoken about how they were surprised to see much older gamers playing.
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Posted: Dec 15th 2010 4:57PM Valdamar said

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Ironically I found WoW one of the hardest MMOs to set-up on my PC (this was back just after BC launched) because I had to muck about with port-forwarding on my router to get its weird torrent-download patcher to work - every other MMO I've ever played, including some indie MMOs with just a handful of developers, have just worked fine with either a manual download (but self-installing) patch download or a conventional MMO patcher that automates everything automatically.

Personally I think Guild Wars probably has the easiest set up of any MMO I've played (not that ArenaNet think it's an MMO :p ). GW is also very accessible gameplay-wise when compared to most MMOs.

I have a significant number of friends and family who are into gaming of some sort (mostly console, casual PC games or just a Nintendo DS - but a few I would consider hardcore gamers as they play most non-MMO games and are on services like Steam) - they all know that I play MMOs but most of them refuse to even try the genre because they just have this impression that MMOs are complex.

I have demo'd games for some of them but they just think that even a basic UI is too hard to keep track of, then you start throwing in various inventory/skill windows and trying to understand stats, or keep track of what you're doing in the gameworld, and they just get totally lost. These are professional people, many of whom work all day in white collar office jobs, so they're not stupid - they just don't seem to be able to think in the same way that long-time MMO gamers do. Even some of my friends and family who have been playing online shooters since Quake/Unreal, and who are otherwise comfortable with advanced PC use, won't set foot anywhere near an MMO, because of this attitude that MMOs are too complex and slow.

The few that have tried to play an MMO on my PC just find the gameplay too sedate and not fun in itself (not unless they get hooked on the reward mechanics, the lore, or some other feature to get them through the dull bits).

I think sometimes we MMO gamers, when we have a dig at WoW for being too simple, or other MMOs for being too casual, forget how complex this genre is to outsiders and newbies. We've been playing MMOs for years, from back when they were simpler (and yes, EverQuest was actually a pretty simple game to play) - we understand the conventions - we know what to expect and how to interpret multiple streams of information, multitask, and swiftly analyse different items with multiple statistics.

More importantly a lot of us MMO fans still put up with timesinks and glitchy gameplay just because we see potential in a game. Just think about whenever an MMO launch goes badly - what is the first thing the Devs and marketing people start bleating on about? Yes, it's the potential. Give us time, they say, and this MMO can be great. And they know which buttons to push because some of us want to believe them so badly. But just because MMOs get patched with additional content doesn't mean it's ok to launch the game with incomplete gameplay because they can always just patch that in as well.

That certainly doesn't play well to a potential audience who are used to having console games that just work, or other home gadgets that just plug in and switch on. By comparison MMOs still have this aura of being "for the enthusiast only".

If this last 5 years of terrible MMO launches has done anything, it has shown most of us that flawed launches are not acceptable - glitchy gameplay is never forgivable, no matter how big or complex the game is - the gameplay should be the central feature of the game and it needs to be polished, functional and fun. WoW always gets praised for being polished at launch, but for some reason that is the one thing that most other developers haven't copied from WoW.

MMOs aren't really mainstream imho, despite WoW advertising on TV - and both the complexity of the genre and the flawed/glitchy launches are to blame for that. To a lot of people who still struggle to use Windows or email (a large majority of people, in my experience) MMOs are just never going to be their thing, like TV/movies or console games are - not unless MMOs can get back to the playability and user-friendliness of a lot of mainstream games. No, I don't want MMOs totally dumbed down, but they could do with a lot of streamlining - ease of play does not have to mean lack of depth - this is one area where I agree with Blizzard's catchphrase: Easy to learn but hard to master - it's just a shame that they equate "hard to master" with just learning patterns by rote, instead of having dynamic tactical gameplay.

Nowhere does it say that virtual world games need to have as many layers of complexity and clunkiness as most MMOs have - MMOs need to streamline their UIs and gameplay, increasing tactical/gameplay options without increasing UI/statistical complexity, or the non-MMO games that are developing persistence are going to take the crown away. Just look at all the multiplayer FPS games that are adding character progression - they're already on the path to full persistence.

Perhaps the problem with MMOs as a media form is that they are still too tied to their forebears: MUDs, wargames and pen & paper roleplaying games. Well maybe it is time to cut the cord. Maybe it is time that MMOs became a media form in their own right, instead of borrowing so much from the past.

Sure, I like depth in my MMOs, but that doesn't mean complexity and I don't want depth at the expense of action or a polished gameplay experience. Yes we all realise that MMOs are a lot bigger and harder to program than non-MMOs, but surely that's why they need 3-5 times longer to develop them with far bigger teams - it's still no excuse for delivering a shoddy flawed product.

MMOs need to lose the clunky/glitchy gameplay inherited from the past and embrace not just the future, but the present of gaming too - sure, the convergence between offline and online/MMO gaming has started, but all of the progress seems to be being made by the single/multi-player game end of the market (just look at games like Brink, due next year), with very little convergence coming from the MMO end.

MMOs need to evolve and streamline much faster than they have been doing, otherwise they are just going to get so expensive to make, for such a comparatively niche audience (compared to non-MMO gaming), that the genre will only progress to its own extinction.

Posted: Dec 16th 2010 12:48AM jeremys said

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@Valdamar I agree.

Part of it sounds like it's a genre barrier and not an accessibility or customer service barrier. RPGs are RPGs. I am of the old-school and don't believe they should be changed as then they'll ceases to be RPGs and become a different genre alltogether -- actiony arcade games(it's actually how I feel about Vindictus).

But it is still a huge hurdle for the People who would like MMO"RPG"s and just want a game to work.
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Posted: Dec 16th 2010 9:29AM jeremys said

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@Tempes Magus Oh. I actually pretty much agree with you on that :)
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Posted: Dec 17th 2010 11:54AM Valdamar said

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It's certainly a genre barrier, JeremyS, but all genres evolve. MMORPGs just don't seem to be evolving at the pace other genres have. Certainly not in the last 5 years, not like they did in the first 5-6 years after EverQuest's launch. And I think WoW's stranglehold on the industry, in particular on the people funding and producing products in the industry, is responsible for that.

The funny thing is that I've been playing Guild Wars lately, and I'm a long-time (5+ years) subscriber to City of Heroes and they both strip out a lot of the needless complexity many past MMORPGs I've played have had, but they still feel like RPGs and they still have depth - moreso in fact than most of the EQ/WoW clones I've played (which of course includes WoW and EQ 1-2).

No STR, no CON, no WIS - the stats you do have to worry about are the ones directly connected to the skills/powers you use - you can see exactly what benefit you will get from increasing or decreasing something (e.g. Attributes in GW, Enhancement Percentages in CoH). Loot is also a lot less important and doesn't serve to gate the content like it does in WoW/EQ clones, so it doesn't get in the way of people grouping together or enjoying the storyline either.

So many MMORPGs seem to have lots of stats and numbers just because they think that is the meaning of "RPG" - just because that is how pen & paper RPGs like AD&D (with its heavy dependence on rulebooks) or Rolemaster/MERP (with it's ridiculous dependence on huge spreadsheet-like percentile tables) did it - personally when I ran pen & paper RPG groups for almost two decades back in the 1980s and 1990s I used a stripped down version of both the RuneQuest rules and the Warhammer FRP rules because after trying to play lots of different games my group discovered one thing - lots of rules slow down gameplay and actually gets in the way of role-playing/story-telling, without actually adding much realism - strip the rules down and suddenly story can move forward at more of a cinematic pace and players start to see the wider sweep of the narrative rather than just focusing on combat that can take all evening to resolve.

I feel the same way about a lot of modern MMORPGs - they're adding complexity because they think that adds depth and it's traditional for MMORPGs to be like that, but for lots of people it has the opposite effect - the statistics and complexity just get in the way of enjoying the story and your character journey. And is it any wonder that MMORPGs have such a heavy combat focus having grown from such heavily statistical wargmae-like roots? After all, even pen & paper roleplaying grew out of wargaming, so is it any surprise so many of those were combat-heavy as well? Personally I hold out a lot of hope for SWTOR's dialogue system to help bring some of the story back into MMORPGs, to make combat more meaningful when it does happen.

MMORPGs that want to be mainstream need to streamline their systems. Getting rid of primary and secondary stats that don't directly correlate to combat effectiveness is a good start (even Blizzard realised this when they simplified their combat stats recently). Minimising the effect of levels on combat is another good move, like in Guild Wars where your level doesn't affect combat as much as how you use your skills, or CoH where the sidekick/mentor system (which is now totally automatic and scales the entire group down or up to within a level of the group leader's level automatically) lets anyone of any level team together - in fact CoH's Giant Monster (GM) fights offer an intriguing look at how a level-less system could work, because players of any level can fight a GM and have their damage contribution scaled automatically to the level of the GM.

MMORPGs just have far too many confusing systems, just like pen & paper RPGs did back when that market was bloated with competing products, more than the niche could actually support (and I feel MMORPGs are hitting a similar point in the market now).

Strip MMORPGs down so that anyone can pick them up and play - make combat more intuitive and less mathematical - and you also put players closer to the story and the action so they feel more immersed. I think part of the reason I find FPS and action games often more immersive than MMORPGs is because there is far less of a UI standing between me and the world - I feel in direct control of my character, rather than merely managing my character. I can pay attention to the world, rather than paying attention to my hotkeys or health/mana gauges.

Tempes Magus, I totally agree with you about Halo - I felt so immersed the first time I played it - it was like I was playing a part in a movie, it was so cinematic. I felt part of the story, that I was playing the role of Master Chief. So it should be no surprise I still go back and replay parts of it sometimes (especially the levels 2) Halo, 4) Silent Cartographer and 5) Assault on Control Room).

Now if that kind of movement and pace could be translated into a medieval milieu in a persistent world with lots of strong storylines to participate in and some form of progression - ideally something like the character progression in Borderlands, where you have modular procedurally generated equipment and passive boosts that you can invest in to increase your character performance - with all the best bits from MMORPGs added (chat/social interface, persistent world/character, longevity of the game with patched content, crafting e.g. being able to break down weapons and re-craft/modify them). I'd be there like a shot. Imagine hundreds of players getting together to take part in castle assaults and huge battles in a world like that - wouldn't that be an amazing thing?

It actually feels odd to me that I'm advocating this - I used to play wargames, I actually enjoy using Excel for spreadsheets, I have a background in statistical analysis from my former career - I've been a "stat-freak" for years - I still have files full of analytical spreadsheets I've made for RPGs I've played in the past so I could compare classes, races, equipment etc. But maybe it's because my finance industry career was so maths based that stat-heavy RPGs have come to feel like work to me rather than leisure. Heck, over the last decade I've probably done more online research to find/collate necessary information for the MMORPGs I've played than I have done for my writing or my job.

So maybe I've just outgrown the MMORPG genre - perhaps I'm just waiting for other gaming genres like the FPS to fully develop persistent explorable worlds and full character progression - and they're getting there very quickly, from stuff like the persistent areas in Global Agenda, to the persistent character development in the Battlefield games, through to games like Brink being released next year which will add AI-managed tactical questing and fully persistent characters and areas to the multiplayer FPS genre.

We have certainly seen a lot of convergence in genres/styles of games over the last decade, but there's no reason to think MMORPGs should be excluded from that - so while I think there will still be a place in future for traditional EQ-clones, for the niche audience that those styles of "old school" RPG can still draw in (see: Vanguard:SoH) - just like there's still a market for old school wargames and pen & paper RPGs, long after their boom times of the 80s and 90s - I do think if MMORPGs want to truly go mainstream then they have to evolve to be less complex in terms of their systems, but to instead embrace depth in other ways - such as a deeper storylines, smoother character control, increased interaction with terrain/objects in the world (to make the world seem more like a world and less like just a "map" in a game), and easier/streamlined interactions between players (i.e. less gating content by levels/elitism which just divides a playerbase, more of a focus on large scale cooperation against a dangerous world and/or other players).

Maybe it will mean evolving into a new genre - maybe they won't be labelled MMORPGs anymore - but those were my hopes and expectations when I first heard about the original EverQuest eleven years ago from an overly excited friend who had just bought it - then I actually played it and was quite disappointed. But like I said in my original comment, what always hooks you in is the potential - it was potential that got me hooked on EverQuest, and in doing so this entire genre - and it's that potential that keeps me here, on the new frontier. That tantalising frustrating potential - the wonderful things these games could be if they just shook off the shackles of the past.
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Posted: Dec 18th 2010 1:53AM jeremys said

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@Valdamar Wow. Thanks for the awesome reply. Very informative.

I agree about the overly complex nature, applied to combat specifically. To me, the complexity was traditionally there as a way to be utilized if a player so chose to. It was there as a way to simply allow for a large world with many possible activities that could work together at some point, coexist if you will.

I do think that the numbers have been all funneled toward battle and that can be stripped down, ala what Blizzard recently did. But I feel they still have plenty of numbers and stuff going on throughout the breadth of the game -- and I'm kind of all for that. What is the most effect the stripped down WoW stats will have? I'm guessing they mainly effect combat. But the ability to have complex numbers going on is a good thing for an RPG, I think. WURM may be a good example with it's emphasis on simply working the land and living. There are a vast number of skills and number-crunching going on it that, and I think it's important for allowing to play such a deep and rich role within it's world.

Think about all the math and calculations that go into EVE online without even considering combat.

A single-player action game can have lots of story. They do and I'm sure there's many great examples of this right now, but they aren't what I feel are RPGs in the same sense of living in an open world.

When I played Pen-n-Paper RPGs, I tried Fusion, on-the-fly tweaks of Fusion, Battletech, Mechwarrior and DnD mostly, but we didn't use a lot of the numbers and dice rolling(except in Battletech - lots of dice rolling in that). I liked it being there because there was always something that could help us structure a storytelling session no matter what we wanted to do. One time (we must of had too much caffeine) my friends just sat around figuring out different ways to burn down the town tavern and get away; or they found elaborate and hilarious ways to annoy each other with the spells and rulesets -- and the rulesets allowed for almost anything. That's what's I feel is missing from RPGs. City of Heroes may be finding a good direction for the theme they offer. In Runes of Magic, I played for the better part of a year, but that was spent crafting, decorating a house, wishing I could fish and build more stuff via crafting, exploring, etc... -- those are where I like the numbers to be to widen and allow for playing a role(within the ruleset, I.E. RoM Fantasy World). I may have to try City of Heroes on to see how it fits me. These days, I look for things that many would probably say are stupid or doesn't matter, like the ability to go into a building, or have better floor plans for those building -- to allow me more room to play a role within.

But, evolution will happen -- no doubt. You give me a lot to think about though. Thanks again. These kind of conversations are a big part of why I love MMOs so much.
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Posted: Dec 18th 2010 10:00PM Valdamar said

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@jeremys
I really like that these kind of discussions can take place on Massively. On so many other sites I wouldn't even bother commenting, because you just get attacked if your comment is longer than the 1-2 sentences those with short attention spans can handle. On most comment sections of gaming sites, like on most forums, people are just engaging in popularity contests or making posts that do nothing but affirm their existence - but I like to contribute to a proper discussion - it's the main reason I post.

It's fitting that Tempes Magus has commented here as well - we have disagreed on a lot of things on Massively in the past, but we usually get a good civil discussion out of it and end up re-thinking our own perspective, even when we still end up agreeing to disagree. Hopefully other people reading our discussions, whether they share one of our perspectives or have their own, will at least re-appraise their own thoughts on the matter at hand as a result. MMORPGs are such a work of compromise, being made by so many different people, that those of us who comment upon them should be prepared to compromise (our views) as well, or at least accept the possibility that others could change our mind - instead of the kneejerk comments you see so often on other MMO websites. I've certainly softened up my views on cash shops in games as a result of discussions I've had here with Tempes Magus and others - I even bought some bank space in Guild Wars tonight!

Getting back to our subject at hand, I don't mind complexity in my gaming if the gameplay itself is complex - there's a place for that (e.g. I much prefer Civ4 over Civ5 as it generally has more things to think about strategically, though I appreciate that Civ5 offers greater tactical complexity). Sometimes I like simple games, sometimes I want more complexity.

What I hate about a lot of MMORPGs from the EQ/WoW school is that the gameplay is incredibly basic/simple (and dull), but the underlying stats can be complex, often arbitrary and really hard to compare, and half the time you don't have all the information you require in-game without going to a third party website/wiki or hoping some players in the playerbase will start doing an analysis of the code to provide the info the Devs haven't. Now I'm good at maths, but I resent having to do that "work" on my leisure time - the gameplay is what matters to me when I play a game, not number-crunching. Guild Wars is pretty much the opposite - the underlying maths seem fairly straightforward on the surface (except perhaps for how armour rating interacts with damage - I had to go to the wiki to understand that - and fortunately it doesn't take long to reach the armour cap then you can basically stop worrying about anything armour-wise except how it looks), but the gameplay can be quite complex, especially when deciding which skills to take and how to use them in certain situations.

I just object to games that are uneven in their complexity - games that put me to sleep with their straightforward dullness in combat, but then expect me to compare tons of different stats with complex and often hidden relationships to each other when deciding what gear to wear or how to invest my attribute points - it's just far too much work for not enough pay-off.

MMO worlds are already complex just in terms of scale and choices, without piling needless mathematical complexity on top - if a game expects me to make a decision on equipment or attribute assignment then it should at least give me all the information I need to make that decision, and not make it require lots of analysis.

When CoH launched it was pretty bad for not providing numbers for powers - now it gives you all the info (if you want it) - I ditched Champions Online very quickly just because it obscured nearly all of the information I required to make choices. In a lot of cases it's not just complexity of maths but the fact the Devs just hide it - now I could appreciate them making the choices very simple if the gameplay is very simple (which it is in most MMORPGs), but there's never an excuse for hiding numbers just because you think it will scare people off - if a Dev thinks the numbers in their MMO will scare people off then it's a good sign that they've made their game system overly complex.

Basically I want complexity in the gameplay, not in the systems that support the gameplay.

I want the complexity to be in the tactical decisions you have to make in combat, but most MMORPGs are just predictably repetitive "tank & spank" exercises against 1-2 enemies at a time. I want to have to react to combat, not just follow the same pattern in every fight, or worse just follow a pre-established pattern for an encounter like with EQ/WoW raid/boss fights.

Guild Wars with its reactionary skills (interrupts, condition application/removal, etc.) makes combat quite dynamic. CoH does the same but in a totally different way simply because you're fighting about 4-5 times your numbers and spawns can have different types of enemies in them so you're constantly prioritising targets, learning how new factions fight (i.e. what types of enemies make up that faction and what powers they use), and reacting to unexpected combinations of enemies and powers - CoH isn't overly difficult - in fact you can make it incredibly easy at the level cap with expensive builds (or at any level if you have a certain build and know how to use it) - but it's rarely dull just because you're keeping track of so many targets and situational awareness, even if the underlying combat isn't that different to the EQ/WoW clones - except for the fact that movement and positioning can matter a heck of a lot more in CoH, depending which archetype/build you're using, just because you can use the third dimension - vertical height - and make use of your travel powers as well in combat - all of that adds so much depth to some fights.

Blizzard's "easy to learn, hard to master" phrase can be applied to Chess - a game I love that's easy to pick up and learn all the rules, but can take a lifetime to master all the various strategies and learning how to think through a position and react to or manipulate your opponent - people who like Chess never get bored of Chess (with opponents of similar or better ability). MMORPGs should be like that, imho, straightforward to play (like an FPS is) but with tactical depths that you learn in time - and the possibility of your own skill as a player being important, like it is in a lot of single player and multiplayer games. Instead MMORPGs are mostly just pedestrian games of learning to press a few buttons in the right order, with barely any movement or dynamic/reactionary elements in combat.

With most MMORPGs the complexity isn't in the gameplay - it's in the systems that back up the gameplay and which are so off-putting to the huge potential audience out there for virtual worlds who just won't touch MMOs in their current form.

After all, there's a very good reason that most MMORPG players, when referring to how difficult or challenging an encounter or quest is, actually mean how long it will take, or how lucky you need to be to get certain drops. I think that's the worst condemnation of an entire genre that anyone could give.

But yeah going back to your post I realise there are very complex numbers underlying an MMO like EVE which has to calculate trajectories and matching velocities etc. - but what is key is being able to shield players from those calculations without hiding information they will need to make decisions - it's not easy but the fact some games achieve it makes it clear it's not impossible. Just look at FPS games - how they calculate bullet trajectories - but you as a player don't need to understand those maths to be able to pick which gun to use in a certain situation. Look at the single-player/co-op game Borderlands to see how even stat-driven FPS/RPG loot can be made easy to compare.

I've dragged this on too long again, but if I had to boil my entire point down to one sentence it would be this: The complexity in MMORPG combat should be tactical, not mathematical.

Forgive me that I didn't make reference to your points on WURM or RoM from your post - I've not played either so I can't really engage on them.

Oh and btw CoH does have building lobbies you can enter - a lot more than it used to have - and a lot of the missions are the interiors of buildings, though they are instanced and don't always fit into the external footprint of the building which irks me often. But I think you'd like CoH's base design system, as the only "housing" system I've seen in an MMORPG that I count as equal in depth is EverQuest 2's housing. While CoH may not have as much "furniture" to throw around as EQ2, you can change the layout of rooms and the lighting as well, plus the base itself is a lot more functionally useful than EQ2's housing was when I played it (admittedly that was a long time ago).
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Posted: Dec 20th 2010 2:04PM Valdamar said

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@Tempes Magus
This must be the end times - Armageddon is coming! - because this has to be the first time I've 100% agreed with you Tempes Magus :)

I still think text has a place in chat in MMORPGs, though - not just for shy people (and I know plenty of people who refuse to use voice-chat because they are self-conscious, or have a speech impediment, or are partially/wholly deaf, or whatever), but also because you can review text to see the whole sweep of a conversation - useful if you're holding multiple conversations at once in different channels (something most MMORPG players are masters of).

Also voice-chat is easy to misunderstand in the middle of the action, especially when you have an international MMORPG with lots of people with different accents - while text is a lot less ambiguous.

Personally what I'd like to see is voice-to-text conversion software employed in MMORPGs, then you get the best of both worlds - the player can speak (if they're able to, otherwise they can still type it in), but their spoken words are shown as text on other players' screens, or as voice too if the receiving player wants that (and if the sending player wants to have their voice be heard).

Also imagine what it would do for role-playing if there was text-to-voice software in games as well - you pick a voice for your character, you speak (or type), and the game translates your words into the voice patterns of your character - so men can role-play women, speak with their male voice and have their character speak in a female voice, or a child of either gender with a high voice can role-play and speak as a grizzled old warrior with a gravelly voice - so many possibilities. Not to mention having characters of different races/species with a different cadence/tone to their voices, even voices that human vocal chords cannot usually replicate (e.g. imagine a cyborg with an echoing mechanical voice, or a two-headed ogre where both heads speak alternately with different voices or simultaneously at the same time in different tones).

With current technology the text-to-voice results might sound a bit stilted, but the tech will improve.

Or just use direct voice-masking without the text conversion in the middle, but I still think it would be useful to have a transcript/log in a chat window of an ongoing conversation - we multi-task so much in MMORPGs that it's easy to miss things.

Chat boxes have other uses too, of course, such as item/loot linking (and in Guild Wars you can link builds for your heroes to other players with the same hero too, so they can try out your build) - or typing in emotes, though I guess the time will come when the latter could be done with a device like Microsoft's Kinect instead, so you act out the emote you want your character to perform - in future I could see that being especially useful for facial movement - the role-playing of the future, where everyone has to be an actor :D

But yes voice is much better than text-speak during action/combat which is why I tend to use voice in multi-player (or MMO-) FPS games.

Though personally I'm a big fan of having more options, so I think having the option of both text and voice, with both voice-to-text and text-to-voice conversion included, is the way ahead.

But yes, players using only voice could clean up their UI further by not needing a chat box onscreen - another reduction in (perceived) complexity for the masses.
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Posted: Dec 20th 2010 3:03PM jeremys said

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@Valdamar - I know it would carry it's own hurdles, but the idea of a spatial voice engine sounds really cool to me. I've read snippets about different plans over the months, but it essentially tries to position you, via voice, in the game world. So if you have guild members to the left and right of you, you will hear their voices coming from those locations.

Are you in a cave? Your voice will echo. Etc...

They also talked about voice changing in terms of RP. Want to sound like an Orc?

It's an intriguing idea. Personally, I don't thing I'd use that kind of tech. much.

I've thought about a lot of great stuff, through this conversation with you and Tempes. Thank you both. I have a lot of article ideas I'm working on because of it.
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Posted: Dec 21st 2010 9:08AM Valdamar said

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@jeremys
Yes the spatial voice engine sounds pretty cool as well - the future can't get here quickly enough!

@Tempes Magus
Yeah getting rid of action bars would be a great start. I'm a big fan of contextual uses for skills/interaction - if I'm at range from my target then those 4 melee attack keys should be switched to my ranged skills instead - or if I'm next to a throwable object then maybe my melee grab/hold key should turn into a "pick up the object" key, then once it is picked up another melee attack key turns into a "bash someone with the object" key, while the grab/hold key becomes a "throw the object" key.

I also get tired of having to re-apply buffs which is why I don't play buffing characters very often, so I would have all buffs be either passive/aura based (i.e. always on) or like DAoC's concentration-style buffs (you select which buffs to put on people and maintain, but then they stay on that person until you or they leave the party, or you turn the buff off) - making all buffs selectable from a menu before combat and then automatically maintained would certainly get buff skills off the hotkey bar and give us less keys to think about.

I also think a lot of the skills/powers we gain as we level up should instead be passives that affect existing powers. If I have 2 melee attacks, then instead of giving me a 3rd melee attack with a stun or knockback effect why not just add that effect to one of my existing attacks? There could be a lot more efficiency in how skills/powers are assigned, because in so many MMOs I end up using just a small fraction of the total number of spells/attacks I've gained and the lower level or weaker versions just end up as useless artifacts from earlier in my character's life instead of something they've progressed.

I'd probably want more than 4 different attack skills - 8, like Guild Wars has, seems like about the limit for what I can realistically keep track of, though in GW 2 of those are very situational on my current character (e.g. resurrect signet and/or signet of capture and/or pet resurrect/heal), so I guess 6 attack skills in total would be fine - but if contextual uses for skills were added then it would increase what you could do with those 6 slots, without increasing the complexity of the UI.

Something I can also criticise GW for is having two maps I like to keep onscreen - the spinning compass minimap and the fixed mission map which shows my path through the area and collector types/locations - I wish there was a way to combine both into one map (by having options so that I could customise my mini-map to my own needs), but there isn't so I keep both onscreen, wasting screen real estate.

GW also does not have a quest tracker so I keep my quest log open as well, wasting more space - though honestly I wish MMORPG quests were more like CoH arcs where you work on one long ongoing series of missions at a time and focus on that single storyline, instead of just gathering half a dozen single tasks in town (or a few dozen, like in WoW), like a shopping list of quest objectives, before you head out into the world to tick them all off - i.e. I want less quests but each quest to be more detailed and more story-based than task-based, then you wouldn't even need a quest tracker to keep track of so many tasks. More space saved.

I'm also a big fan of chat windows that fade or can be made transparent, because that saves space onscreen as well.
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