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The Soapbox

The Soapbox: This is how reviews actually work

Culture, MMO Industry, Opinion, Massively Meta, The Soapbox

Welcome back to the Soapbox, folks. Actually, let's call this a mini-Soapbox, since it's just a wee thing compared to some of the walls-of-text we've previously published in this space. Anyhow, let's talk about reviews, bias, and subjectivity. Whether it be film criticism, concert recaps, book reviews, or game reviews, there's an illogical expectation out there regarding "unbiased" work and -- to directly quote a recent Massively commenter -- "correct and honest" reviews.

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The Soapbox: Let me tell you how little I want to raid

Endgame, Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous

Nope.
Over the past several years, Blizzard has been very attentive when it comes to making it easier for players to raid. Raid sizes have gone down, then they've moved over to a flex structure. The raid finder was added to the game. Mechanics were toned down, while getting drops has been made even easier. With the next expansion, you won't even need to toy around in difficult instances to get ready for raiding; you can just jump in pretty much from the point you hit the level cap.

All of this in response to a lot of people saying that they don't want to raid -- all of this so thoroughly missing the point of that statement.

This is one of those hurdles a lot of designers can't seem to conceptually get over. World of Warcraft's design team has had years of people saying this, and every response from the team has been missing the point so completely that it's almost absurd. I don't want to raid, at all, ever. End of discussion.

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The Soapbox: Does Trion realize what it has in ArcheAge?

Fantasy, Culture, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, New Titles, PvP, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, The Soapbox, ArcheAge, Sandbox, Crafting

ArcheAge - Two cats watching birds
Can I share how nervous I am about the fact that ArcheAge is finally heading West? Thanks because I really need someone to talk to about this stuff.

I'm going to skip over the F2P hand-wringing, both because I covered it nine months ago and because there's nothing anyone can do about it. And there's plenty of reason to fret about the rest of what's in store for starving western sandbox fans, anyway. Join me after the cut and we'll worry about it together.

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The Soapbox: My hypersexualization conundrum

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Races, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, MOBA, MMORPG, Buy-to-Play

Final Fantasy XIV
Every now and then here at Massively, we receive an email that isn't super nice. I know this may come as a shock to many of you -- the internet is, after all, a place of tolerance and constructive debate -- but sometimes the Massively inbox is no place any sane person would want to be. One reader recently took the opportunity to offer some choice thoughts on Massively staffers. And amidst the jumble of insults and generalizations, the reader levied the ever-powerful "hypocrisy" charge at us for claiming to care about hypersexualized designs of female characters in MMOs while simultaneously playing as those very hypersexualized characters. How could we possibly purport to care about the presentation of women in games if we're all running around in chainmail bikinis?

Generally speaking, I prefer to not have my habits and behavior challenged via ad hominem attacks and false comparisons. But I have to admit that this one particular charge piqued my curiosity. Why is it that the majority of my characters are female? Am I, as a person who looks down on hypersexualized designs in games, committing an act of hypocrisy every time I create a female character?

Let's sort it out. And before we begin, remember that the Soapbox, like most of our editorials, is just one person's opinion and doesn't represent the thoughts of Massively as a whole.

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The Soapbox: Old content should stay relevant

World of Warcraft, Fantasy, EverQuest, Expansions, Endgame, Opinion, Guild Wars 2, The Soapbox, MMORPG

The Soapbox title image
The archetypal themepark MMO model, as popularised by World of Warcraft, is a race to the level cap in order to unlock the best content on offer. New content is tacked onto the endgame regularly, accompanied by improved gear and perhaps a higher level cap. It's a system that's designed to keep people playing by keeping them on a progression climb that's constantly getting steeper. As a consequence, endgame activities render older content obsolete since these outdated activities carry little real benefit for fully leveled characters.

Exploring old content for the sake of experiencing it is not enough of a motivator for many players since this content simply cannot present the same challenge as it once did. Although you can technically go back and play through old dungeons, they will never be as fulfilling when tactics become optional and you can solo once-formidable opponents. In this week's Soapbox, I will mourn the loss of fantastic older content that was rendered obsolete through vertical progression, using WoW as a key example. I'll go on to suggest a solution that I think might allow for both old and new content to exist together in relevancy without significantly compromising the themepark MMO's existing progression mechanics.

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The Soapbox: Novel content trumps novel mechanics

City of Heroes, Game Mechanics, Patches, Endgame, Opinion, The Soapbox, Dungeons, Player-Generated Content

I'm not a malcontent
Action combat. Interactive conversations. Public quests. Voxel worlds. There are many game mechanics that developers of massively multiplayer online games crow about when promoting their games because these are the things that make their games stand out from the pack. Even if they're not the first to do it, they'll proclaim that they're doing it bigger and better than their predecessors. I don't have a problem with any of this.

It's when the developers and their ardent fans gloss over the importance of the actual content these mechanics are applied to that I get annoyed. Mechanics are just a skeleton, and they can't do anything at all without some meat on the bones. Content matters, and good, fresh content will keep players interested long after the novelty of unusual mechanics has worn off.

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The Soapbox: Stop ganking, you ganking gankers

World of Warcraft, Fantasy, Aion, PvP, Opinion, Free-to-Play, TERA, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, Subscription, MMORPG, Buy-to-Play

Lineage II
For me, player vs. player interaction is a necessary component of any online game. The urge to engage with skilled human opponents is the reason I spent countless hours defending flags in World of Warcraft and likely the main motivating factor in my slide away from traditional MMOs and toward MOBAs like Dota 2 and Blizzard Entertainment's upcoming Heroes of the Storm. Simply put, I like a good fight.

I especially like a good fight when it occurs unscripted and out in the wilds of the world. If you catch me unaware while I'm grinding out one of TERA's BAMs or plucking gold from an ore vein in Aion, I'll be more than happy to cross swords (or trade frostbolts) with you. Winning or losing isn't important to me; the constant threat of attack heightens my enjoyment of and connection to the game's universe.

Unfortunately, open world PvP doesn't attract exclusively those people interested in fair fights. And in the games that make it possible, a certain small segment of players is working hard to ruin everyone else's good time. I speak, of course, of gankers.

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The Soapbox: MMO 'nostalgia' isn't nostalgia

Sci-Fi, Culture, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, Opinion, Star Wars Galaxies, The Soapbox, Sandbox

Elizabeth Montgomery
Here's the Merriam-Webster online dictionary definition of the word nostalgia.

nos·tal·gia
noun
\nä-ˈstal-jə, nə- also nȯ-, nō-; nə-ˈstäl-\
: pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again
1 : the state of being homesick : homesickness
2 : a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition; also : something that evokes nostalgia


And here's where I tell you that nostalgia is the most misused, overused, and overly simplistic word in modern MMO discourse.

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The Soapbox: The Raid Finder ruined raiding

World of Warcraft, Game Mechanics, Guilds, PvE, Opinion, The Soapbox, Dungeons

The Soapbox title image
I don't typically limit myself to ranting about only one game at a time, but I decided to make an exception this week and speak out against World of Warcraft's Raid Finder mechanic. I was running a small and modestly successful raiding guild when this system was introduced, and my team definitely felt the onslaught of this guild-destroying game mechanic first hand. Raid Finder, commonly dubbed LFR by the cool kids in Orgrimmar, is a system that demolishes the competency barrier that stands in the way of freshly level-capped characters and normal raiding content. The system allows players to join a random raiding group in order to tackle a nerfed version of a normal raid and exists mainly to maximise inclusion in the game's best PvE endgame content.

LFR was quite popular among casual players that were usually passed up when it came to raiding group formation, but it didn't offer much progress to seasoned raiders. The gear gained had lower stats than its corresponding normal raid counterpart, but the LFR tier simply didn't need the co-ordination required of a group tackling regular raids. A void was created somewhere in between the casual masses who could benefit from the LFR mechanic and the hardcore raiders that simply did not need help with progression. My casual raiding guild was caught in the middle and ultimately met its demise at the hands of LFR, which simultaneously depleted the PUG pool and gave our members another way to see the endgame content they wanted without putting in virtual blood, sweat, and tears.

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The Soapbox: Enough with selling alpha tests already!

Betas, Business Models, MMO Industry, Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, Crowdfunding

Shroud of the Avatar
The dam has burst, restraint has been cast off, and caution has been thrown to the wind. Seemingly overnight, game studios all over the place have thrown the doors open to the general public to get in on alpha testing, usually as a reward for loyalty and financing.

Steam has an entire Early Access section that's dominating the sales charts, offering players a chance to hop right into an anticipated game while it's still in the middle of development. Kickstarter games routinely offer alpha and beta access to their financers as part of their reward structure. Trove, Elite: Dangerous, Shroud of the Avatar, Star Citizen, and EverQuest Next Landmark are among the vanguard of upcoming MMOs that have promised alpha or early access to players willing to shell out a few bucks right now.

It's not enough to covet and chase after a beta key these days; all of the cool kids are in the alpha, apparently. The willingness of developers to wield alpha access as a reward and the enthusiastic acceptance by gamers to literally buy into it has me very concerned that this could poison the industry, the community, and the future of our games.

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The Soapbox: Launching with a subscription is still a good idea

Business Models, Launches, MMO Industry, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Massively Meta, The Soapbox, Subscription, Buy-to-Play

Pictured: A sub in a sub-based game.
The massively multiplayer online game industry is constantly changing, but one thing about it never will so long as capitalism stands: MMOs have ongoing costs, and those costs are passed on to the end user. Exactly how they're passed on is one of the things that has been changing, but new methods don't mean old methods don't have their place.

New isn't good because it's new. New is good because it can provide solutions to old problems. When an old method is seen as the source of a problem actually caused by something unrelated, shoving a new method in there can just create new problems. So why all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over games trying out a subscription before they move onto other models? And why all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in retaliation to this opinion?

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The Soapbox: My MMO resolutions

Betas, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Launches, MMO Industry, PvP, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Consoles, EverQuest Next, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, WildStar, The Elder Scrolls Online, Destiny, Star Citizen, MMORPG, Buy-to-Play

The Elder Scrolls Online
Today is the last day of 2013, a long year of extended betas, early access pre-purchases, and soft launch nonsense. The release slate for 2014, however, brings slightly more excitement. 2014 is the year we'll (hopefully) first set foot into Elder Scrolls Online, EverQuest Next Landmark, Destiny, Star Citizen, WildStar, and more. It's the year in which a record number of MMOs will go live on consoles. And most importantly, it's likely the year in which consumers will decide whether the traditional MMO is dead or just in need of a good kick in the pants.

Ordinarily I'm not the type to make New Year's resolutions. It seems arbitrary to hang important life changes on a date on the calendar. But the end of the year does bring a nice opportunity to look back on my gaming habits over the last 12 months and provides me with an opportunity to draft a list of things I'd like to do better moving forward. 2014 will be an MMO year like no other, so perhaps it warrants a few adjustments in behavior.

With that in mind, these are my 2014 MMO resolutions.

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The Soapbox: The horror of embargoes

Opinion, Massively Meta, Humor, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous

My Little Pony gets a gritty, realistic reboot.
We're right on the cusp of one big holiday or another. Festivus, I think? I don't really pay attention to the calendar. So we're going to take this opportunity to talk about something near and dear to our hearts that a lot of you don't even know exists because you aren't working here. It's the magical miracle known as the press embargo.

Embargoes work something like this. Let's say that Bungie is hard at work developing My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Online, and the company wants to reveal a new piece of information on August 9th. The company sends a lot of different press outlets a release with all of the information on August 2nd, mentioning exactly when the embargo lifts. So on August 9th, everyone can cover it at the same time!

It sounds like a great way to ensure that the press knows things in advance and that every big revelation is nicely coordinated across all media. In practice, though, it's something less than beneficial due to failures to communicate and the very nature of the beast. Giving more time between the information and release just means more space for things to go wrong.

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The Soapbox: There's nothing wrong with easy

Culture, Game Mechanics, Endgame, Opinion, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, Dungeons

Generally an easy game.  Also generally fun.  Coincidence?  No.
The word "easy" gets a really bad reputation in gaming, an unfair reputation, at that, because there's absolutely nothing wrong with something's being easy.

A while back, we hosted a great column about how we tend to call things easy when they really aren't. (Seriously, go read that.) That's all well and good, but that's also not what I'm talking about here. Gaming as a community seems to have decided that easy is just plain bad, that it's a horrible insult, and a game being easy is like saying that a game is worthless.

But easy isn't bad. Playing a single-player game on easy difficulties isn't a mark of weakness, and having an MMO that's easy on a whole doesn't mean it's a bad game. Having easy content isn't just an acceptable thing; it's an outright good thing for a lot of player. There is absolutely nothing wrong with easy.

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The Soapbox: World of Warcraft isn't back, and that's fine

World of Warcraft, Fantasy, Culture, MMO Industry, Opinion, The Soapbox, Subscription

Haven't you heard?  I'm new again!
So. That Warlords of Draenor, huh?

To take the narrative that a lot of people have constructed, World of Warcraft has been sort of floundering for the past few years. It released one expansion (Cataclysm) that consistently ranks as the worst expansion in the game's history, coming behind the launch game, The Burning Crusade, and Alganon. Then it released another one that turned out to actually be pretty good but with a premise that turned a lot of people off right out of the gate. Mists of Pandaria's quality doesn't matter in the face of the game losing five million subscriptions in three years.

But then, Warlords of Draenor was announced, and suddenly hope returned to the faithful. There's this thought that the game has suddenly returned from the brink, that Blizzard hit the big red button labeled "Save World of Warcraft" and the game will be catapulted back into prominence once again. Except that I think that portion of the story isn't just premature -- it's making a stab in the dark about a game that isn't back and can't, in fact, be back.

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