Sunday, June 30, 2019

How About a Nice Game of Chess?

A lot of MMOs these days give rewards for logging in, and if you log in enough times in a month you're likely treated to a little perk. ESO does this with daily rewards that (especially at low level) come in handy for potions, and they have three special perks per month. Typically at the 21st or so day of logging in per month, you might get a pet, an outfit, or maybe even some downloadable content.

Other MMOs, such as Age of Conan, TERA, and Rift, all do this as well, and WoW and other MMOs do this with daily quests.*

However, I do wonder about the nature of "push button, get reward" rewards that encourage daily logins.

It's one thing to throw a bone to regular players, and I do get that, but when I'm in the middle of doing whatever around the house and I think "Gee, I have to go login now because I want to make sure I pick up the daily rewards" and then before I know it I've stopped folding laundry and am halfway to the PC, yeah that does become somewhat worrying.


In its own way, the "push button get reward" reminds me of when I played the Age of Empires mobile game, which would give you a small reward with daily logins, but would then encourage you to spend money to get those rewards faster (the classic P2W environment). While not all MMOs go the P2W route with daily logins, a lot of them do "encourage" a player to peruse the cash shop to see what you'd get if you accumulated rewards faster (i.e. "paid for them") by making the reward accumulation just slow enough to drive you batty at times. And in mobile games, making the reward accumulation key to being able to survive an enemy onslaught, well, that just sucks.

And yes, just like when playing against a guild group in Warsong Gulch, when you try to simply use the free option and not purchase extras, it can feel pretty hopeless at times.

So "free" doesn't really mean "free" if you actually want a shot at winning, so even in winning you "lose" something (money).

Or, as Joshua put it in Wargames, "A strange game. The only way to win is not to play."

*I remember logging in daily during Wrath to get that daily 5-man run complete so I could get my badges and slowly accumulate at first a T9 set and then a T10 set of gear. For a non-raider, that was the best I could get.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Perusing the Landscape

I've been poking my nose into a few of the MMOs that I've tried and not really done much of anything with, such as Rift and TERA, and found that the environments are somewhat stable.

Well, kinda.

For example, the last several times I logged into Rift I was practically the only person around. Just about any sign of life would be better than what I found at the time. After it was pointed out to me that it was likely that a particular server might be more active when I was logging in, I made an effort to try various times and days of the week. Still, I saw hardly any activity.

The past few weeks, however, I've seen an uptick in the activity in Rift on both factions to the point where I can be reasonably certain that if, say, I needed an assist on taking care of a Tear, there would be someone in the vicinity to help out. I would definitely not call Rift as having a healthy population, but it's better than the "dead" it certainly seemed to be several months ago.


TERA is in a better situation than Rift, but that's not exactly saying much. Unlike Rift, TERA is still being actively developed by Bluehole --they recently released a new race/class combo, for instance-- but TERA still has that "shameless"* look that a lot of Korean MMOs have. For better or worse, that look tends to attract some people and repel others.

The look aside, TERA had finished server merges and gotten down to two servers: one PvE and one PvP. From my end, I think the server merges where absolutely the best thing to do for TERA, because there's a viable population in both. What I can say is that there seem to be more people active in TERA at any given time than Rift, but I'm not sure if the population is at the level that is good for the long term health of the game. Let's put it this way: if TERA were owned by NCSoft, I'd be a bit nervous about NCSoft shuttering the game.


Which brings me to ArcheAge.

I've been seeing YouTube videos for a couple of years about how "ArcheAge is dead" and "when will they kill ArcheAge?", but ArcheAge is still here.

I do have to wonder how much longer, however.

I have two toons in ArcheAge --one of the quirks of the game is that you get EXACTLY two toons total across all servers, unless you subscribe-- and with one parked in a mid level/upper level capital and another in the intro/low level zones, I simply don't see the population there. In Rift, at least, you do see people creating new toons in the intro and low level zones, but ArcheAge feels dead. Perhaps the decision to allow only two toons total has something to do with that, because if you want to experiment on different servers with race/faction/class combos before subscribing you have to be in a constant state of deleting toons. And lets face it; not everybody is so keen about constantly zapping toons because of that artificial limitation.

But the thing is, ArcheAge seemed a bit healthier in the intro and low level zones before the server merges** than after.

Even though the population is likely higher than Rift, at least Rift is in maintenance mode while the devs for ArcheAge are still trying to put new content together. And there are other, glaring problems that are more obvious to an English speaker than to a Korean speaker, because the English port is, well, a bit inconsistent. You have NPCs speaking to you when you walk around, and at first I thought the reason why I couldn't understand them was because I was an Elf and they were Human. It turns out that they were speaking in Korean, and the devs for ArcheAge never bothered to provide English voice acting for these NPCs. I wouldn't necessarily mind, but having to constantly check out the text box to make sure I'm not missing anything does get really annoying after a while.***

Okay, I doubt the English port is a deal breaker for most people, but the overall lack of toons to work with in the free portion of the game is. And I'll be honest, outside of the lack of toons and the English port, there's not that much that sets ArcheAge apart from its other Korean MMO competitors (Black Desert Online, TERA, etc.)**** And when you've got such a low population as ArcheAge seems to have, that's a problem.


Anyway, this wasn't by any means an in depth analysis of the state of those games. These are just overall impressions of hopping back in after having been away for a while, and just seeing what's around.

One MMO that I really ought to get back into playing is Neverwinter, because despite the overall generic nature of the Forgotten Realms I do look on that D&D setting a bit like comfort food. Now, if someone had created an MMO based on the D&D world of Krynn, I'd be up for that. I still have my copies of the original Dragonlance Chronicles around, and if you gave me a chance to hang around with Tanis and company....

*As Rohan put it, which is likely the best way to put the toon and clothing choices.

**They took place a year or two ago, right when I was testing the game out.

***I'm used to "make sure you pay attention to everything because you might need it later" mode you get when playing RPGs for as long as I have. Besides, if you're an Elf and you're in Elven territory, you ought to be able to understand everything said (presumably in Elven). Wandering into Human territory is a different thing, and I'd not expect to understand the language. But having a foreign language everywhere just breaks immersion for me.

****All the P2W debacle aside, you could argue that was a problem with Rift. While I found the story intriguing and the fact that Rift deliberately kept the talent trees around, if you're looking for a new game to play Rift would have a hard time standing out from the crowd. Other fantasy MMOs had better known properties (Warcraft, Lord of the Rings, D&D, Conan, Elder Scrolls) which give it an initial leg up on Rift, and that becomes hard to overcome.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Some Friday Humor

I came across this on Facebook today, and laughed:

So in honor of some of the Vanilla WoW memes (and experiences), I came up with the following:

It was hard to limit my options to these.
As you might have imagined, distilling all of people trying out Vanilla WoW having only experienced BC and later down to 25 Bingo options was hard. I suppose I could make more sheets, but this one will do for starters.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Maybe I shouldn't have taken a bite of that Apple

I spent the latter part of last week at mini-Red #2's university orientation*, and while it was wonderful to look around and enjoy the university atmosphere, I couldn't completely shake work from the back of my mind.

Wrong time of year, perhaps, but there were vistas
like this across campus.
You see, work often means being beset by business terms ("business-speak"), discussions about how to do more with less, and the steady advance of business analytics.

The concept of business analytics isn't exactly new, given that methods of separating customers from their money have been around for millenia. However, computers and electronics have grown to the point where the "Big Data" of business analytics is now a huge business. The "targeted advertising" in the past has yielded to analytics driven methods of optimizing sales.**

Even getting away to a university in a small town hasn't allowed me to escape all of this stuff.


And what, you may be asking, does this have to do with a gaming blog?

Everything, actually.

Why do you think live services, lootboxes, and other in-game purchases are so big (and yet so reviled) with game dev houses right now? Because they do a great job of utilizing analytics to target the gamers who will pay for such things.

There are companies who market toward dev houses to help them maximize their profit. And if you said "Well, of course there are," watching their sales pitch is less about watching a meeting in a dev company and more about watching something that'd have been at home in a traditional corporate boardroom.

Here's a snippet of one, from Jim Sterling's The Jimquisition from back in 2017:

Sorry about adding the 50 second preamble, but I thought it was better to get a sense of the overall situation rather than simply dropping it into a post as-is. And although I do take issue with Jim Sterling at times, this entire episode of The Jimquisition does cover a lot of items that I used to see regularly as a salesperson at Radio Shack back in the early 90s.***


I guess you could say that --as a player of MMOs-- I ought to be inoculated to this sort of monetization, but there are times when it does bother me a lot. Like when I'm walking through a small college town, enjoying the scene, and see something that makes me think "You know, if [pick a storefront, any storefront] knew their customer base better, they could really do well here in town."

It's like being a musician, and not being able to turn your analytical brain off and simply enjoy the music any more, only far far worse.

And I really am concerned that monetization schemes in the gaming industry will become not only more invasive with time, but paradoxically harder to detect. And also I fear that game companies --particularly the major corporate dev houses-- have lost sight of the reason why games truly exist: for fun.

*Although he and I had been at his university twice to visit, my wife hadn't. Therefore, both of us tagged along with him for orientation. The drawback to those extra days off from work is that there was an absolute pile of work to get done when I got back. Yay me.


***Sorry, but the term back then was "Salesmaker", not salesperson. Radio Shack loved their own lingo to no end. And boy, could I tell you stories about life at "Rat Shack".

Thursday, June 13, 2019

A Quick Check-In

Yes, I still exist.

No, the blog isn't fading.

Yes, I do have a couple of posts in process, but nothing that's finished and ready to post.

But no, none of those posts are things that I'm particularly proud of, so they may never see the light of day.

Yes, I've been sucked into watching the FIFA Women's World Cup, and yes, I've been enjoying the matches so far*, but yes, it does cut into my gaming time.

And finally, yes, I've been watching E3 with a great deal of interest, and more than a bit of a jaundiced eye after the disastrous releases of Fallout 76 and Anthem (not to mention the Blizzard layoffs and other things happening in the gaming industry). But AMD... That is interesting. VERY interesting.

Anyway, I'll try to check back in next week (if not sooner).

*Except the US' nuking of Thailand. Not the score itself, because the only way the US could have stopped scoring is to simply kick the ball around the midfield for about 45 minutes, but the goal celebrations that went on after the US shot past a 6-0 score. Some people seem to think that this celebration backlash was because "women aren't allowed to show emotion", but in my case, I just felt bad for Thailand who were so clearly overmatched that I could have been playing out there for them and nobody would have noticed.