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Player Consequences

Player Consequences: Movie Magic and MMOs

World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, Business Models, Culture, MMO Industry, The Matrix Online, Opinion, Player Consequences

Video games have quickly grown into one of the most popular forms of entertainment in this day in age. Almost everyone under eighteen plays them and developers are getting better at making games that appeal to older generations. Still, there are other forms of media that enjoy more mainstream awareness. Movies in particular control a large portion of the entertainment industry and produce billions of dollars in revenue every year. Part of this profitability can be attributed to Hollywood's savvy at marketing products related to movies. A summer blockbuster probably makes almost as much from licensing and merchandising as from ticket sales. The funny thing is that within the last ten years a large part of that licensing revenue has started to come from video games.

Let's dig into how that applies to MMOs. There has been discussion of a World of Warcraft movie for some time ... what about the rest of them? Read on to explore the connection between Hollywood and Norrath.

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Player Consequences: Closing Time

Business Models, MMO Industry, The Sims Online, Tabula Rasa, Player Consequences

If you look into the history of modern MMOs, you will notice that most games in the genre are still up and running. In over ten years only a handful have failed and been taken offline by their publishers. That's not to say every MMO has had outstanding success. It's just that the minimum cost to keep these game worlds running is actually quite small. As long as current subscriptions can maintain the servers and minimal support staff, there is no real reason to take a MMO offline. In fact, most game publishers realize that shuttering a MMO is a little bit of a public relations nightmare. It's much better to keep a game running as long as there are any players willing to pay for it.

This doesn't seem to apply in cases where a publisher is worried about a MMO negatively affecting the reputation of another product or license. One particular example of this was The Sims Online, which had been slowly losing subscribers since its launch in 2002. How EA managed to make an under-performing MMO out of one of the bestselling video game franchises in history, I will never know. EA eventually attempted to revive the game by renaming it to EA-land earlier this year. However, it seemed that the renaming was just an attempt to dissociate the MMO from the Sims brand name since they canceled it a few weeks later.

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Player Consequences: Slow and Steady

World of Warcraft, Business Models, Expansions, Endgame, Opinion, Player Consequences

Everyone seems to be talking about Wrath of the Lich King at the moment. It's busting sales records at the stores and seems to have attracted attention away from the other MMOs released this year. However, I'm sure most of Blizzard's competitors aren't that worried. After all World of Warcraft may be a monster, but it's one that only comes out to eat once every two years. Mythic was just unlucky enough that the schedule for Warhammer's release coincided with the monster coming up for dinner. Still even if Warhammer released further away from Wrath of the Lich King I have to wonder if the results would be any different. World of Warcraft seems to have the unusual ability to maintain a high subscription based even with a slow development cycle for its expansions. The subscription numbers do dip in between releases, but the game never really seems to lose its momentum.

I expect this can be partially explained by Blizzard's habit of holding back content from its expansions and then releasing it in later patches. This helps stretch out the expansion content over a wider time period and gives the development team a chance to work on brand new content. However, even this trick can't account for why World of Warcraft keeps its numbers in the face of multiple new MMO releases.

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Player Consequences: WAR games, part 2

World of Warcraft, EVE Online, PvP, Warhammer Online, Opinion, Player Consequences

It's not just the reward systems either, both games also have very different opinions on how to achieve class balance. World of Warcraft has increasingly been balancing its classes towards small-scale combat. Almost every class has methods of crowd control and ways of incapacitating other players. Warfare in the game has become more about timing your special abilities correctly to counter crowd control spells then about actually dealing damage. This may make arena combat more exciting, but it has the price of making larger scale encounters less balanced. Simply having that one extra person with a stun, fear, or root gives enough of an advantage to completely shut down the opposing side.

In Warhammer, combat seems more about large-scale combat and sticking with the basics: healing and dealing damage. The only crowd control abilities I have seen so far have been root spells which seem to be given only to cloth wearing casters. There are some interesting knock-back abilities, but these don't stun or incapacitate the target. If want to defeat an opponent then you are going to have to deal enough damage to kill them while they fight back. This would seem to be the better combat system, but it actually encourages running away in small-scale encounters. In particular, any sort of PvP system where the objective is simply to stay alive would last forever. This is probably why we won't be seeing arenas in Warhammer any time soon.

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Player Consequences: WAR games

World of Warcraft, EVE Online, PvP, Warhammer Online, Opinion, Player Consequences

The season of war has come upon us and we have not one, but two great fantasy war games out in the stores. I have to stress the term "fantasy" though since neither game is truly designed around anything remotely resembling real warfare. That kind of action can really only be found in the less structured gameplay of MMOs like EVE Online. Of course, in those games the side with the most money and the best equipment tend to always win. This makes it a little too similar to real life for most people and it can be a bit boring. Not many people want to worry about managing a supply chain when they can be clashing swords. This is why games like Warhammer and World of Warcraft with their resetting objectives and instances are much more popular. The rules for these games might not be realistic, but it's entertaining.
Warhammer Online Coverage Did you enjoy this? Make sure to check out our Warhammer guides: Massively's Character Creation Guide and our WoW Player's Guide to Warhammer. Plus, don't miss any of our ongoing coverage as Massively goes to WAR!

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Player Consequences: Are MMOs finished with forums?

World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, Forums, MMO Industry, Warhammer Online, Player Consequences

The creation of the Internet has made communication affordable, fast, and almost completely reliable. It's no wonder that almost every facet of our lives has been affected by it, especially our entertainment. Mainstream entertainment like mp3s and streaming television have only recently found their way online. However, gaming has had a much longer relationship with the Internet. Early developers were practically hobbyists and they worked closely with players to establish some of the first persistent online games called MUDS. These text-based games often had very tight knit communities since there were initially few people who could afford to play them. Players often had direct communication with a game's creators and used early Bulletin Board Systems and Usenet to voice their opinions and offer help. This became the foundation for the relationship between MMOs and gaming forums.

Nowadays, it is much more common for a company to hire community managers to act as intermediaries between developers and players. Games are more complex and it is not just a couple guys in their basement anymore. Think about the opportunities for miscommunication if every developer on a large team posted their opinions on a game forum. It would be anarchy and the game studio would constantly be clarifying statements and putting out fires. When you look at that way, it becomes obvious that community managers serve an important function. Not that every gamer will agree they are necessary. As developers became more removed from gamers there's been an increasing amount of disdain for community managers and the forums they moderate. Over the years, several games have had bad situations on their forums that have some companies wondering if forums are even worth the trouble.

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Player Consequences: Getting back to Grouping

World of Warcraft, Game Mechanics, Warhammer Online, PvE, Player Consequences

It's no secret that modern MMO design has changed drastically in the years following World of Warcraft. The secret of the game's success has been the topic of discussion for every gaming blog and review site for the past four years. Yet while everyone tends to focus on what World of Warcraft did right, there are a few areas where the game underperforms. In particular, the grouping and guild systems seem to encourage quid pro quo relationships between players as they are leveling or gearing up their characters. That's not to say that Blizzard was trying to discourage strong bonds between players, but more that they were concentrating on making one of the first solo friendly games in the genre. They eventually reached this goal by developing the questing system we now see emulated in almost every modern game. Unfortunately, this focus on solo questing has had some major unintended consequences for those who like leveling in groups.

As long as World of Warcraft remains the top performing MMO on the market most game developers are going to assume that only the minority of players actually prefer grouping. I've seen people compare the subscription numbers of World of Warcraft to games like EverQuest 2 to support this argument. It's obvious that most players would rather keep the solo friendly format then be forced back into the days of required grouping. However, the situation doesn't require that MMOs have to be designed to cater to just one style of gameplay. Some minor changes could be implemented in modern questing and leveling design, which would greatly encourage cooperative grouping. Most MMOs that are oriented on solo questing only discourage grouping by accident and not on purpose. Still some of these "accidents" tend to be very annoying to anyone trying to level with a group of friends.

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Player Consequences: Why We Subscribe

Business Models, MMO Industry, Opinion, Player Consequences

There are many different choices when it comes to picking out a MMO nowadays. The genre is no longer limited to only a handful of games based on old Dungeons and Dragons manuals. Players have the options to pilot spaceships, become a superhero, command a pirate fleet, or even fight aliens as a super soldier. While the classic swords and sorcery setting still defines the MMO genre, it is no longer a requirement for being successful in the market. Yet despite having, dozens of different worlds to choose from players still seem to be limited to only one payment method.

It's not that gamers are overly fond of the subscription model. Indeed a lot of console and FPS gamers specifically avoid MMOs because of monthly fees. This hasn't stopped game developers from continually using the subscription model though. Despite all the different payment models being explored by industry, the subscription model continues to be the most popular for AAA titles. There seems to be an underlying notion in the west that subscribing to a MMO is still the most beneficial payment method for the consumer. If you look at the history of early MMOs it's not hard to see how this notion was formed.

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Player Consequences: Item Decay, No Way

World of Warcraft, EVE Online, EverQuest, Economy, Game Mechanics, PvP, Warhammer Online, Opinion, Player Consequences

With the recent announcement of Diablo 3 I felt it might be a good idea to actually look into the series. I don't know how I missed one of the most popular LAN games of all time, but it somehow happened. Since I like starting at the beginning, I tried out the first Diablo last week and imagine my surprise when I started to get flashes of déjà vu. I had heard about how much Blizzard borrowed from the Diablo series to make World of Warcraft, but I didn't know the extent of it. The item durability system in the two games is almost exactly the same. Just like in World of Warcraft I quickly figured out that only the blacksmith in town could repair my broken items. Thinking I had the basics figured out I headed off into the dungeon and start my personal re-enactment of Army of Darkness sans chainsaw. As I took damage, it was nice to see the familiar yellow armor icon pop up on my main screen telling me I still had durability left.

I continued to hack and slash the isometric sprites until I noticed they were starting hit a lot harder. Thinking it was time to repair I checked my inventory and was greeted with the sight of a naked me! Unlike its MMO cousin, the first Diablo actually destroyed armor when its durability reached zero. I felt somewhat sheepish about it, but then I had a funny thought. Could you imagine if World of Warcraft followed the same design? Raiding would take a lot longer as people constantly left to repair after every two or three deaths. Tanks would be even rarer since they would have a much higher chance of losing items. The problems with that scenario quickly mount up and it's easy to see why Blizzard changed the durability system slightly when putting it into MMO form. That's not to say you will never find item decay in a MMO, especially if you explore some of the less mainstream games.

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Player Consequences: The Need for Speed

World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, EVE Online, Jumpgate Evolution, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Blackstar, Player Consequences

Traveling has always been one of the least popular parts of playing a MMO. It doesn't matter if you are marching through the lengthy Connall's Valley in Age of Conan or travelling across the galaxy in EVE Online. It can be tedious no matter what the setting. Nice visuals and guild chat can occupy you part of the time, but you still check the map every other minute. We're lucky that MMO design has come a long way since the early days, where the only option was to hit the road on foot. Most games now give us vehicles, mounts, and in some cases mechanical ostriches to speed up the pace a bit. After all, if it's the journey and not the destination that matters then you definitely want to travel in style.

There is one underlying reason why travel times continue to be prevalent in MMOs today and it's directly related to player expectations of virtual worlds. Developers are very sensitive to the issue of making their games seem like a real world and not a collection of three dimensional video game levels. Any MMO that has too many instances and separate zones often gets complaints for breaking the feel of a seamless world. This can actually turn players away from the game. As a result, the most successful games are often those with an over-world where players don't find themselves constantly having to load data as they zone. Just look at how World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and EVE Online handle their world design.

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Player Consequences: PvP Consequences in Age of Conan

Age of Conan, Game Mechanics, PvP, Player Consequences

Player versus Player combat is always a tricky subject in the realm of MMO design. It has been with us since some of the earliest games in the genre and has had a huge influence on many players. Indeed the demand for PvP game play is now so high, that most developers believe they have to include some form of it or risk losing players. It is easy to see why the developers for Age of Conan chose to have so many different types of PvP in their game. Unfortunately, just rubber-stamping PvP into a game can be bad idea especially, if you do not evaluate its overall impact on your player base.

Age of Conan uses a factionless system which makes it very vulnerable to negative forms of PvP like ganking and rez point camping. Some people think that's all there is to PvP in a MMO but there is much more behind the story. Many gamers prefer matching wits against real opponents instead of predictable AI enemies. If you go by the Bartle test then these players can be classified as "killers" though the term has a lot of negative connotations. Not everyone who is a PvP enthusiast is also a griefer out to ruin everyone's fun. This is why Funcom is trying to design a system that allows for player competition, but prevents an overabundance of asshattery.

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Player Consequences: Pervasive Map Features

Game Mechanics, Opinion, Maps, Virtual Worlds, Player Consequences

There are a lot of reasons for the increasing popularity of MMOs and the amount of game developers who are entering into the market. I personally think that MMOs with their rich and complex fantasy worlds have a huge advantage over most single player games. There are a few exceptions like Baldur's Gate and Oblivion, but in general if you want to experience a completely different world then you need a MMO. I think this goes back to the days when online fantasy games were text based and developers tried their best to create immersion through good lore and storytelling.

In fact a lot of players enjoy the immersion in MMOs and have fun exploring the hidden areas in the game. Going into the unknown has always had an attraction for some people and history is filled with the names of famous explorers. However, in modern times the world doesn't really contain that much which is unknown and it will probably be a while before we get to another planet. Thus virtual worlds offer a false, but satisfying sense of exploration. Not everyone wants to be an explorer when playing a game and the majority of players tend to fall more into the achiever player type.

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Player Consequences: Item Binding

Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, Opinion, Player Consequences

Players often feel like they have no control over their favorite MMOs, but the truth is every major design decision is made with them in mind. Developers listen to forums and every complaint and suggestion has a chance of changing the direction a game takes. Player Consequences is a new feature that follows some of the modern trends in MMOs and the player concerns that created them.

Item binding has become a fact of virtual life for most of us nowadays. We get an item, pick it up, and it somehow magically attaches itself to us like some kind of lamprey. We usually don't mind that much when we first get the item, but eventually we find something better. Then it becomes time to peel it off and sell. This is when we usually find out that the favorite item we worked so hard to earn is only worth a small pittance to the NPC merchant. It would be nice if we could sell it to another player or save it for one of our lower level characters, but most games don't allow this anymore.

You see, a long time ago back in the early and mysterious age of first generation MMOs, there wasn't really any reason for item binding. Oh some items might have a "required level" on them and some special quest rewards might be "no trade", but in general "bind on equip" and "bind on pickup" didn't exist. If you got lucky on a mob's loot table and won the Sword of Ultimate Uberness then it was yours to do with as you please. This usually meant that it became somewhat of a family heirloom and was passed down to every new character you created, much like that hand me down jacket from your older brother.

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