Wednesday, April 23, 2014

You Know What They Say...

Given my years as a parent, I've become accustomed to the psychotherapist part of the job.

You know the drill: somebody is saying something and whatever it is is blown out of proportion. Or that there's an excessive amount of interpretation in what seems to be a simple oversight or mistake (like so-and-so not calling ALL DAY*). Or that intentions aren't perfectly clear, and I have to divine them.

If I charged by the hour for advice, I'd be a rich man.**

But one of the things I'm fond of saying when talking about friendships is the line "If you want a friend, be a friend." Don't assume that people can read your mind and understand that you're a good friend; you have to show them friendship, make that leap of faith, if you want to make that connection.

I was reminded of that the other day in SWTOR.


I'd made a point of bringing the Old Man to the end of Chapter One of the Smuggler story for two reasons: so I would be far enough ahead in level to help out the kids with their own toons whenever they asked, and so that I could watch the end of Chapter One again.*** However, my push to do that meant that I had a bunch of quests left over to work on.

Yeah, I know I could simply dump them, but I've got a bit of completionist in me, so off to Alderaan I went.

There, I found someone asking in Gen Chat "LFG Red Handed". I looked at the time I had free to goof around in game and decided to go ahead and whisper for an invite. I got one back almost immediately and joined the leader at Panteer Castle. The third member of the group, a Trooper, was finishing up his class quest on Alderaan and said he'd join us shortly.

So we waited.

And waited.

And killed a bunch of mobs and waited.

Finally, the third guy finished up his quest and asked where we were. "At the castle at the end of the map," I said.

Then the trooper dropped group.

"Shit," the leader said. "I've been trying to finish this Heroic for days and have had no takers."

"Well," I replied, "We're both OP for Alderaan right now, so let's try to two man it. I'm specced DPS, but I can heal in a pinch."

So we trotted off and made an attempt at 2-manning the Heroic 4.

Some Heroics you can solo if you've the right class combo, and others you have to wait until you no longer take damage to solo it. In retrospect, I suppose a stealth toon such as a Jedi Shadow or a Scoundrel (such as the Old Man) could solo Red Handed, but at the time I was thinking more along the lines of CC and healing. It wasn't a given that we would be able to finish this Heroic fighting our way through it, even though the odds were in our favor with the leader being an L37 Jedi Guardian. He may have been L37, but he was still geared with Alderaanian gear, and in SWTOR gear > levels.

But after about 40 minutes of grinding our way through, we finished.

The Guardian was ecstatic. "If you need anything --anything at all-- just let me know. You have no idea how long I've been waiting to finish this."

I assured him I was fine, but let me know if he needed an assist in the future.


Then, with some really old Taris Heroics still smelling up my quest list, off to the plagued planet I went.

When I arrived, I pretty much expected to blow through the Heroics, collect a few badges, and clear on out. However, Taris chat on the Republic side (and Balmorran chat on the Imp side) is often quite active with interesting discussion topics. Tonight's was no different, and centered on Heroics. Or rather, the lack of available bodies to run Heroics.

"It used to be that you had no problem getting a group together, but nobody ever responds to LFG requests these days," one person complained.

"Yeah, it seems that nobody gives a shit anymore," another added.

Properly shamed, I piped up that I'd be willing to assist if someone needed help on some Heroics, as did a few other people.

I ended up spending the rest of the evening running Heroics on Taris, such as Fall of the Locust, Knight Fall, and Fallen Stars. Since I far outleveled the content on Taris, I ended up tanking just because it was the right thing to do.


You'd think that after the griping in Gen Chat I'd feel a bit of resentment to having been railroaded into helping out with Heroics, but you know, I really didn't mind. I could have just blown it off as so much bitching, done my thing, and left. But really, what would that accomplish? That people shouldn't complain and just suck it up, just because that's how MMOs are?

Or is it that people want to play MMOs because of that middle "M", the "multiplayer" part of an MMO, and get disillusioned when most other people couldn't be bothered?

Remember when Blizz removed most group quests in WoW when Cataclysm dropped? Remember the bitching in the blogosphere about how Blizz is removing all group content out in the world? Perhaps Blizzard recognized that people weren't interested in questing group content, and decided to acknowledge what people were really doing in-game? That to a lot of people, the multiplayer part of an MMO resides in LFR, LFD, BGs, and guild stuff? That getting together and running a group quest was passe in an era where you could hardly find anybody else in the zone you were questing in?

But that's the thing: is it the game that dictates the behavior, or the behavior that dictates how the game is developed?

Rift operated --initially, anyway-- on the premise that they wanted to be even more WoW than Wrath-era WoW was. GW2 emphasized dynamic in-zone group content to generate multiplayer interest. Age of Conan simply made the mobs so hard that it was difficult to finish a questline in a zone without grouping up. SWTOR made group content optional with the Heroic group quests, but encouraged a culture of grouping using Gen Chat.

But what have they accomplished? Becoming niche games compared to WoW? Or have they attracted the players they wanted to attract?

That brings me back to SWTOR and Heroics.

Perhaps the complainers in Taris were right, and that the game was changing and becoming less multiplayer friendly. If so, we as players have a choice: we can tacitly accept the changing nature of the game and just live with it, or we can do something about it. We can be active, help out with groups, and get involved. We can help to make the game the way we want it to be.

If you want to have a friend, be a friend.

*And tell me, you read that with an overly exaggerated voice, didn't you?

**Well, given that they'd be paying me in my own money, I wouldn't be rich, but it's a nice sentiment.

***SMUGGLER SPOILERS (you have been warned): Nok Drayen is totally Machiavellian and totally ruthless, and I'm glad that Risha had ten years away from him to grow as her own person. I respect her far more than I ever could Nok or his ancestor (who set the damn ship in the Long Shadow in the first place).


  1. How the game is designed dictates player behavior. By far.

    There will always be player tendencies toward certain trends. Developers can throw up their hands, surrender to the trend and cater to them for the path of least resistance.

    Or they can stay true to whatever "vision" or goals they have for the game and try to club/badger/force players to do what they want them to do (but there are issues with "forcing" that builds up ultimate resentment.)

    Or they can brainstorm and innovate and try to come up with clever new ideas and compromises to steer player behavior towards desirable objectives, by dangling incentives and bonuses, choice and options rather than "my way or the highway" type of force.

    Case in point: GW2's dynamic events brought players together quite naturally, drawn by easily seen minimap markings showing event progress. Until the system started failing when population in servers got too low in the least traveled leveling zones (a side effect of having a high max level and more players reaching that cap.)

    Enter now the megaserver, which brings together players on that map from any server, and we suddenly have critical mass again.

    Waiting for players to self-organize and seek out sufficient numbers/community is a bit of a gamble. It happens, for those willing to put in the effort to, but you'll lose out on those who can't be so inclined. That's up to the game developers whether they're willing to lose that subset or no.

    1. However, fixing GW2's population problem is going to be a long term issue.

      The older a game is, the greater the tendency toward most toons being max level. While WoW's tendency toward emphasizing max level raiding has increased over the years, there's no denying in that a 10 year old game has most current players at max level.

      Down the road, GW2 has to find a way to consistently bring in new players to keep the critical mass alive. Megaservers and mass merges will only help for a limited amount of time.

      As for SWTOR, I think their big problem is that they're needing to bring in new players that will be happy working together. SWTOR is a couple of years old now, and I realize that there are people a bit faster than me at the leveling game who have seen all eight class stories by now. That will start to put pressure on the lower level zones, because just having bodies there isn't enough; SWTOR needs players who will be interested in multiplayer content.

    2. Indeed. All games that last a while will always face the 'need more new blood' issue.

      So far I don't think we've seen any real good solutions to that beyond place heavy discounts to lower the barrier of entry. WoW's habit of selling everything but the current expansion for like, $5, for example, or Eve for $5 or GW2's current half price sale, for example.

      That, and making the cap either low enough and focusing on lateral progression options that new players feel it's viable to catch up within a short period of time (Eve, GW1 and GW2) or speeding folks to wherever the bulk of players are (WoW.)

      Note much of the onus is on the developers, not really up to the players. (Though players can help game longevity by creating supportive and longlasting communities, which is a pull factor when people think about trying a game.)

      The death knell to games seems to be when the newbie trickle dries up, and everyone thinking about giving it a try goes, "Oh, I'll never catch up, or there's no one playing, so I won't even bother."

    3. Even with a cheap entry price, WoW hasn't done a good job at bringing in new blood. The story has now gotten so discombobulated at lower levels that new players would be confused right off the bat, which probably explains why all of Warlords' focus seems to be on getting lapsed subs back rather than try to entice new subs.

      Everytime the "need new blood" problem comes up, I can't help but think of how the MMO genre seems to be something cooked up by Bernie Madoff: like his pyramid scheme, MMOs need new blood to keep going, for without new blood both will eventually collapse. Of course, there are more than a few major differences (such as legality), but my brain can't help it.

  2. Funny that you ran into this conversation on Republic Taris - that's early enough in the levelling curve that I've never had any issues getting groups there, whether for heroics or that datacron that requires at least two people. It's the mid-level zones where finding groups gets tough (chapter two and onwards) - and has always been.

    1. I can figure out why a lot of Heroics get skipped on Alderaan --people rush to finish the class stories' Chapter One-- but it wouldn't surprise me if people take a break after that for a while. I know I have, and then I get back to a toon when I feel ready for it.

      I do hear people complain about Republic Balmorra, but for me my complaints are reserved for Republic Belsavis, which never ever ever seems to end.

  3. "You know the drill: somebody is saying something and whatever it is is blown out of proportion. Or that there's an excessive amount of interpretation in what seems to be a simple oversight or mistake (like so-and-so not calling ALL DAY*). Or that intentions aren't perfectly clear, and I have to divine them."

    So... you're suggesting then that being a WoW blog reader is fundamentally preparing me for being a parent. That's an unexpected upside...

    1. Not only does it do that, but it prepares you for hearing the same crap at school, work, home, or a rec league soccer game.

      We certainly aim to please!