Monday, February 25, 2013

Keep Your Enemies Closer

I am starting to think my girlfriend is attempting to sabotage my weight loss goals.

This week is going to take some hard work to make sure I am below 220 on Friday. I say this knowing that the workload at the office is sky high and we are down three great team members (congratulations on your promotions) I think this week will be very un-fun, but it should conclude with a sense of pride.

Tonight, let's talk about a couple of uplink analyses that I skipped over by accident. More words incoming. (Lots of thinking going on the last couple of days. I'm sure I'll run into a flashy video that I can ooo and ahh at again soon.)

The first asked the following question: Should everyone (meaning both "casual" and "progressive" players), be able to experience all the content in an MMO?

This is one of those very divisive topics, one that is not easy to answer. A primary motivating factor for progressive players is accessing this top tier content and getting top tier rewards. I think the trick is identifying what about the content the casual players desire and what the progressive player wants out of it. This can allow for concurrent design that benefits everyone.

I consider myself to be a casual player, based on how deep into a game I go. I still play 2-5 hours a night but my life interrupts my play in ways that are not conducive to participating in a raiding guild. I run dungeons, and I level alts to experience more story options or see the game from another perspective. I see my game time as relaxation after a day at work, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't like to have the option to do some more challenging content from time to time.

There should be complex large group content that requires organized guilds with an active and dedicated player base. This content should be engaging and have some connection to the story to keep it interesting, it should offer unique rewards for the players willing to put in that serious effort.

The design effort that goes into building the environment, NPC models and  combat mechanics is a huge expenditure. Finding a way to allow the general game population to have access to those resources without taking away from the prestige of the players who worked hard to experience that content is a real trick. It's not something that concerns me directly, but I do watch how the design team approaches this situation to get a sense of their overall tone.

I want to see some challenging content that is more pick it up and leave it. This can be solo content, small group content. Something that some weekend I could call my friends and say, "hey let's spend a Saturday working on X dungeon." but if we don't do it again for a month that it doesn't feel like we are behind, or that we missed out somehow. Blizzard tried to introduce this in Mists of Pandaria, but I was disappointed by a feature that I was pretty excited about because it turned into speed runs. I wanted them to be more about hard bosses that take a dozen wipes to learn how to leverage their mechanics and a sense of accomplishment when able to clear it.

Lots of people equate casual to beginner, or bad, but it's more about concentrated time dedication.  I don't have the interest to treat my MMO play like a second job, but I absolutely respect those that do.
 They should have some content that is just for them, but I would feel cheated if the game story builds up to a major conflict or secret and then that resolution is behind a 6 month raid grind.

The other topic was more simple, and it should have been included in post a few days ago about housing: What needs to be "done right" in order for a housing system to be successful?

My experience with player housing comes from Final Fantasy 11's Mog House and City of Heroes Super Group Base. I have heard tales of Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies housing. I have seen some impressive examples of what can be done with the Dimensions system in Rift. My roomate's seemed to have a good time with EQ2's housing system, but I never bothered to turn their monitor's around to check them out. There is also Star Wars: The Old Republic's player starships. EVE has something similar to that with Captain's Quarters.

SWTOR and EVE are great examples of doing it wrong. Static environments dependent on class/race but without any level of customization.

FFXI had some interesting integration with the crafting system and this kind of Feng Shui mini game that resulted in a player buff dependent on the furniture you had in your house. It is pretty simple by today's standards.

City of Heroes had this great ability to customize, and skilled map editors were capable of making some amazing things with the limited tool set given. Originally there was supposed to be a base raiding system for Guild verses Guild combat, but it never got working. There was guild storage and teleporters that added value to your base, but eventually these tools became obsolete with other game innovations and the housing system grew stale. Demonstrating that part of getting it right is continuing to develop it.

 I want to see a housing system that rewards investment, perhaps tiers of base home models. I want it to be functional, the idea of using it to grow crafting materials, have access to transportation, storage, mail, and other game systems. I want it to feature customizable layouts for furniture and other decor. I want my game accomplishments to be represented in this decor. PVP awards, Trophy kills. Exceptional weapons or Gear able to be displayed on armor stands or hung on the wall. Guild banners, Torn banners of defeated foes. Anything that represents an accomplishment should have some sort of representation accessible to be used in housing decoration. Integration into the crafting system is also key to success. Finally, viability. The ability to show off my home. Inviting friends and guild members to my home, and a reason for them to want to, not just to look around but some tangible benefit for visiting friend's homes. I would love to see a version of housing in a persistent part of the world. Maybe not your main home, but some other implementation, such as a guild barracks in an always active PVP zone that needs to be upgraded and maintained and is always at risk.

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