Subscription Fees – Are they Unethical?

Recently I have been pondering over the concept of subscription fees and have been wanting to voice my opinion on them. Of course this is going to be gaming related and as such I will be bringing up the obvious bullshit, however I will also be talking about other subscription models that have popped up in recent years and I will be discussing them as well.

As we all know, subscription models are a means of charging people for time of use as oppose to charging people for a product. As a result, many subscription models are a service, many of which are a necessity for our every day life such as electricity, water and internet.

In recent years however, subscription models have become more popular and more accepted. I personally believe this is dangerous due to the exploitative nature of subscription models. For starters, many subscription payments require people to put their card details onto a website. Now you’re probably wondering how this can be exploitative and while I’m not implying that these companies are robbing people, the intent of the paid subscription model is to gain access to people’s finances more discreetly.

What I mean by this is that subscription services are often unclear as to how they are taking their money off of you. You see, many subscription services have automatic renewal such as Amazon Prime, other subscription services do not such as Twitch subscriptions. Now here’s the juicy part, what is the biggest problem with subscription models? Well it’s not the concept itself, rather it is the intent. Put simply, one of the biggest problems with subscription models is the automatic renewal. Automatic renewal is thought to have been designed around convenience. What it is actually designed to do however is to take money discreetly.

When you put your card details down for a one time payment, you never think about that transaction again. Unfortunately the same goes for subscription payments for some people as they may potentially forget that the transaction ever happened. I know this for a fact as I myself have fallen into this trap. I remember one time looking at my bank statements only to find out that I had been paying for Amazon Prime. Now I had absolutely no idea that I was paying for Amazon Prime for the longest time and if I did know I was paying for it, believe me, I would have taken advantage of it but Amazon Prime had essentially taken a ton of money off of me and I had gotten literally nothing back for it. I had essentially been legally scammed by Amazon.

Now how did this happen you ask? You know when you go to pay for postage and there’s multiple options? Well I accidentally clicked the “free prime postage” option. Now this is a very easy mistake to make as there were two free postage options and they both looked similar so I clicked the first one I saw. Little did I know that I would be signing a contract with Amazon Prime… those sneaky bastards. Now I’m pretty well aware that this was my fault and I accept full responsibility for my fuck ups so don’t think that I am whining about a past experience, I am merely using it as an example to explain to people just how easy it is to fall into the trap and if you fall into it, Amazon are most certainly not going to pull you out of it.

You see, the point that I am trying to make is that the true purpose of the subscription based model is to cause people to fall into the same trap I did. Now I’m not going to presume that everybody uses this model with that intent but I do believe that there are companies that do and as such I cannot stress how dangerous it is for people to accept them in their current state as they can be used as a means of scamming people with subtlety.

Now considering the state of the gaming industry today, the whole concept of subscription models is frightening to me. With so many AAA companies clearly having zero empathy towards the consumer, the concept of the subscription trap is likely one that shows up in board rooms quite often. I’m also certain that this subscription model actually has a direct impact on a game’s design as I have paid subscription fees for games before and every single one of them is coated in filler content. This is what I like to call “psychological engagement”, the means of maintaining people’s engagement by manipulating players into believing that there is a worthwhile reward for overcoming a tedious grind. It is this method of engagement as well as the seemingly harmless aesthetic of the games that cause people to stay subscribed to MMORPG’s.

You see, World Of Warcraft is no different from gambling in terms of how it is presented to players. Like how gambling uses fruit in slot machines, videogames use themes as a means of making players feel unharmed during the exploitation process. When people play World Of Warcraft, they are not drawn in by the rewarding element initially, they are first drawn in by the game’s theme and its aesthetic since it is the very first thing that they see in trailers and when they boot up the game.

Videogames are not predominantly a visual art form and as such, merely having aesthetic appeal is not enough, in marketing however, a strong aesthetic is considered adequate to attracting people’s attention and that’s all that matters in the eyes of publishers. When you consider the fact that the AAA industry puts more money into marketing than they do into development these days, it’s pretty scary to know that psychological engagement is a thing and that games can be sold on just visuals alone. It is this very reason why graphics are the biggest focus in AAA game design today.

As a result, companies that use subscription models can get away with making terrible games so long as they look aesthetically appealing. With that in mind, how does this apply to subscription models themselves? Do you remember the trap that I mentioned earlier? Well the same thing applies here. When you get fed up with a game, what is the first thing you do? You stop playing it. What do you do afterwards? You play/do something else. Do you think about cancelling your subscription? Maybe you do… but not everybody does. If you purchased a game with a one time fee, you can either sell the game or simply never touch the game again. With subscription based games, that isn’t enough, you actually have to cancel your subscription.

Now how does this work with the psychological engagement you ask? Well do you think that grinding is a boring, tedious and monotonous task? If so what is causing you to do these tedious tasks? A fancy new sword is it? Is it possible to question why you are doing such a task? Of course it is. So if you were to question why you are doing it and you couldn’t find an answer, wouldn’t you want to stop playing? Of course you would. Here is the problem, you have invested a lot of hours into this game and you have a lot of nostalgia for it, surely you will go back to it eventually just for a brief moment to look back at all of your accomplishments and see how things are going in the game. Unfortunately however, you terminated your subscription with the game and now you can no longer access it. As such you paid potentially hundreds of dollars for a game that you no longer have access to. How in any way shape or form can you consider this to be ethical!?

Do you now see how problematic subscription based models can be? Subscription based models are essentially a method used to blackmail consumers. This is a huge problem that cannot be ignored and I fear that this model is probably going to be more commonly used in future generation which scares me. Companies will eventually refuse to accept games as a product and will instead treat them as a service. When that time comes, we will no longer have the freedom of choice we have today. It starts with digital only games but eventually subscription models will become the norm, people will become attracted to them and in the long-term this will cause videogames to be primarily subscription based.

You might think I’m crazy for thinking these things but it’s true. With services such as Xbox Game Pass and Playstation Plus in existence, this is starting to become normality and we cannot allow this to happen. Now before I start talking about netflix style game services, I want to make it very clear that I am not against every single subscription service related to game distribution. I am merely against the ones that mislead their customers. Playstation Plus is a perfect example of a subscription based distribution model that misleads their customers. Sony claims that by subscribing to Playstation Plus, you will get free games every month. What they don’t tell you is that if you unsubscribe from Playstation Plus, you will lose access to those games until you re-subscribe. Therefore, claiming that their games are free is a big fat lie, you paid for those games one way or another.

Of course Sony are also notorious for using Playstation Plus as an online paywall which makes it an even worse form of blackmail but even as a subscription based distribution service, it is still unethical. I can’t speak for Xbox game pass but I wouldn’t be surprised if that does the same thing.

Now lets talk about another subscription based model that doesn’t mislead people. Now I know that I have talked about Amazon prime before and how I became a prime member by mistake but the truth is that I actually ended up re-subscribing to them. Why you ask? Because Superhot, a game I desperately needed for a video was offered by Twitch as part of their prime perks. Now despite how annoyed I was at myself for how I accidentally became a prime member before, once I found out how to actually de-activate the automatic renewal, I found a way to game the system. This way I could get a game I wanted for dirt cheap and cancel my subscription immediately so that I not only got the game but also got 1 month of the service with it. The truth is that I got a good deal out of it and once the subscription has ended, I actually got to keep the games I purchased.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not shilling for Amazon Prime, sure I use Amazon Associates with my game reviews but in no other way are they sponsoring me at all. Quite frankly I had heard a lot of bad things about Amazon shortly after I purchased Superhot and as such I can honestly say that Amazon are an awful company and doesn’t deserve our support. However I consider Amazon to be a necessary evil and will continue to use them since aside from my prime situation, I have never had an issue with Amazon as a consumer.

The problem with Amazon is how it treats its employees and I believe that the way they treat their employees is wrong. As a consumer however, I am not going to crusade against Amazon because this doesn’t affect me personally. Call me selfish if you want but I will continue to use the platforms that are most convenient for me and if I will give Amazon anything, they are convenient… even if they are sneaky little bastards with their prime. They also try to sell you credit cards too, the bastards. Put simply, just be careful when using Amazon and you should be fine.

One thing is for certain though, at least Amazon doesn’t blackmail you on the same level Sony and Activision-Blizzard do… unless you care about their netflix style video service in which case… yeah, that’s blackmail but let’s be honest here, the purpose of prime isn’t to distribute videos, the purpose of prime is to cut down postage costs on items you buy as well as all the perks given to you by Twitch prime. Is it worth it? That’s impossible to say. I’d personally tell you not to bother with it but if you can find a way to exploit the model to get something you really need, by all means, go ahead… just be careful.

There is also the Humble Monthly bundle which is $12 a month for a bundle of games including free games you can play immediately. I haven’t tried this bundle yet so I have no comment on it besides the fact that I find it odd how Humble have both regular one time payment bundles and a monthly bundle. Perhaps they think that they can trap people into paying without realizing it but I don’t know. You see, I do not know for certain the intent of game distribution services in general, I only know of the intent of games like World Of Warcraft and certain distribution services.

If anyone has purchased Humble Monthly, fee free to share your experiences with it in the comments. I cannot help but laugh at the possibility of Humble expecting people to subscribe yearly… but who knows? Maybe people do. If you ask me, you’d be foolish to subscribe to Humble Monthly for a year since it is literally a gamble as you do not know what you are getting. Plus who has the time to play all of those games anyways? I can barely cope with 2 games, let alone 6 or more. Ask yourselves this question, is it worth both your time and money to pay for 1 year’s worth of Humble Monthly? Think about that.

In any case, while there may be some certainties related to subscription based models, there are still some uncertainties and as such this topic is still up for discussion, be sure to share your thoughts with me on this as I really do want to know what you guys think about subscription based models.

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Theorycrafting: Why Systematic Engagement Is So Important

A while back I did a video talking about the many methods developers use to engage players.

Looking back at that video, I realized that I wasn’t really delivering valuable information, nor did I explain anything in enough detail as the topic was far too broad to be discussed in a single video.

Now why start with systematic engagement? Well it’s a pretty common method used to engage players in the short term. Systematic engagement involves incentivising players to adjust their behavior in order for them to become more invested in the experience, thus becoming engaged.

Now you may be confused by what this means and for that reason, I shall give some examples. One of the more notable examples of systematic engagement is Devil May Cry’s style system. The style system is a distinctive feature of the Devil May Cry series and is often praised by its fans for making the gameplay experience more enjoyable. The question is, what makes the style system so important?

Anyone who plays the Devil May Cry games for the first time will quickly realize just how relentlessly difficult the games can be and at times it can be tempting for players to button mash out of panic. The style system was designed to circumvent this issue as players who button mash are not enjoying the game to its fullest, therefore they are more likely to become disengaged.

By adding a style rank as an incentive, players will be more likely to experiment with different moves in order for them to finally achieve that S rank that they’ve been working towards. Once players finally manage to reach the highest style rating, they are rewarded with a large quantity of red orbs which can be used to purchase new moves and upgrades to their character.

Another example of systematic engagement can be found in Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria. In Valkyrie Profile 2, battles require that players only need to defeat the leader to end the fight. The purpose of this is to encourage players to end battles quickly, thus saving the players time instead of forcing them to kill each enemy individually. The other enemies are merely an obstacle, which must be traversed in order for the player to reach and successfully defeat the leader.

Now this is fine and all but where’s the incentive? Why shouldn’t I kill all the other enemies first? On the right hand side of the screen there is a gauge consisting of 5 orbs. This is actually a timer which challenges players to end a battle as quickly as possible, if a battle is won with all 5 orbs lit up on the screen, the player will execute a direct assault which rewards them with a massive chunk of experience as well as occasionally dropping an extra item.

On top of all this, players are able to accumulate magic crystals by attacking enemies who are airborne, the purpose of this is to encourage players to experiment with combos in order for them to juggle enemies and acquire more magic crystals. Magic Crystals not only reward players with bonus experience but they are also used as a form of currency that players can spend to transport sealstones to other dungeons which allows their bonuses and penalties to be used anywhere. This can drastically impact gameplay and as such it is important to collect as many magic crystals as you can to give you the edge in battles, by using those sealstones to your advantage.

The point is that by giving players another factor to be aware of, you have essentially bolstered their level of engagement. Valkyrie Profile 2 not only saves the player’s time, but it also encourages players to learn the mechanics to get the most out of it. This is how Valkyrie Profile 2 manages to maintain the player’s engagement and it would not be possible without these two systems, the same goes for the style system in Devil May Cry, it isn’t just a random gimmick, it’s an important facet of the game that keeps the game from getting stale and when a game becomes stale, players become disengaged, just like how wasting the player’s time can also disengage them.

Now In my engagement video, I used the loot system from Diablo as an example of systematic engagement and you’re probably wondering why it is an essential facet of the game. The purpose of the rarity system is to encourage players to explore in order to locate unique enemies and treasures, doing so will reward players with special loot with unique parameters that distinguishes itself from standard loot, giving players bonuses to make their character stronger. This also encourages players to replay the game in order to collect even more loot, which gives an extra layer of engagement for people who enjoy growth.

Before I wrap up this video, I want to talk about the difference between psychological and systematic engagement. Psychological engagement is manipulating players into tedious layers of compulsive activity and compulsive activity in games is never fun. Many people have argued that level grinding in videogames is a tedious process and this is where the theorycrafting part of this video comes in.

What systematic engagement does is remove the monotony of games by building systems to distract players from this monotony and by doing so, you manage to make tedious tasks such as grinding more fun for players to partake in. As such my argument to Keith Burgun’s theory that grinding is bad game design is that systematic engagement exists and all game developers need to realize this.

The good news is that many game developers realize this, the bad news is that there is very little in terms of creativity these days when it comes to developing these systems as developers tend to re-use old systems. I personally would prefer if developers experimented with other methods of systematic engagement as old methods usually tend to become worn out over time. Thus my message to game developers is to come up with something new.

Warcraft 3: Reforged – My Thoughts

So Warcraft 3: Reforged has just been announced and is to be released in 2019. Considering the fact that I have been a big fan of Warcraft 3, I feel that it is important to talk about this remaster.

Before I talk about Warcraft 3: Reforged, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, Activision. Warcraft 3: Reforged is obviously going to be published by Activision and as a result I will be boycotting the game, I suggest everybody else does the same.

In any case, after taking a look at the remaster, it seems that the top down cinematics are going to be replaced with fully CGI cutscenes which is cool. I will enjoy watching these on Youtube to see those glorious moments once again but better looking.

One thing that does bother me however is that many of the voices aren’t returning as is hinted by Arthas being played by Patrick Seitz like he is in World Of Warcraft. I have nothing against Patrick Seitz, he’s a great voice actor but it does concern me that the Dreadlord’s voice cast will have changed.

tichondrius tells you to do your job

Tichondrius, Varimathras, Balnazzar and Mal’ganis had great voices in the original but in World Of Warcraft they sound a bit too generic for my tastes… except Balnazzar of course. I really hope that Paul Eiding keeps his role as Varimathras and whoever voiced Tichondrius and Mal’ganis keep their roles as well. They could just use the old voice files if they need to. It just won’t be the same without the original voice cast.

Another thing that bothers me is the story itself. So far it seems ok but I am concerned about any potential retcons occurring. I really hope that Blizzard don’t shoehorn their WOW bullshit in this game, it needs to stay pure and true to the original lore or I will be even more pissed off with them than I already am, just leave Warcraft 3 alone Blizzard… please!!!

Anyways with that aside, I want to talk about Battle.net and what the future may hold for it. You see, Warcraft 3 Battle.net has been around for a long time now and this could be the end for it. Just imagine for a moment what could happen to Warcraft 3 Battle.net when Reforged comes out, the servers might actually become deserted, let that sink in for a minute.

I wonder what Reforged Battle.net will be like, will it be yet another anarchists paradise like the original? Or will Blizzard finally add moderation to the game? Regardless one thing is for certain, the elitists will be back, trash talk will happen and it’s going to end badly whatever happens, it’s online gaming for heaven’s sake.

Still, Warcraft 3 Battle.net’s anarchy did come with some benefits, for starters, you didn’t have to worry about being banned for saying anything that would offend someone, you had to be a man and suck it up. There’s no safe zone on Warcraft 3 Battle.net and it should stay that way if you ask me. Moderators are always problematic in both games and forums, give us our goddamn freedom of speech for heaven’s sake. Regardless, even with moderators, the game will still have those annoying elitists that are like “Look at this guy, he’s 10 – 13… hahahaha what a shit noob” and with moderators prowling around, the ability to fight back against these remarks will be removed. I see this as a bad thing.

It’s come to the point where I feel as if nothing good can come out of Blizzard now, even if it is a remake of one of my favorite games of all time, all it serves to do is prove that games aren’t as good as they used to be and they need to compensate by re-releasing older games and tarting them up, welcome to the era of paying for games you played years ago just to play them all over again, why should I buy Warcraft 3 again? I already played it and quite frankly I don’t need to see it get tarted up.

Eventually every game will get a remaster… yes even Valkyrie Profile 2 but what then? What will happen when every single game is remastered? Will they remaster them again? Who knows? Regardless, I can’t wait for this era of remasters to end, not because I don’t want these classics to be immortalized, quite the contrary actually, I want them all to be remastered as fast as possible so that once every single game has been remastered, we can move on to playing games that are new and fresh… oh wait, games like that don’t exist anymore.

Call me cynical if you want (it’s literally what my blog is all about) but I don’t really feel any excitement or anticipation for this game, in fact you could actually say that this announcement has made me feel even more upset about the state of the Warcraft series as it merely serves as a reminder to how the series fell apart to begin with.

As such, Warcraft 3: Reforged’s announcement feels like I’m attending a wake at a funeral that should have happened back in 2008… yes I’m talking about the year Wrath Of The Lich King was released because as much as I despise World Of Warcraft, it wasn’t really all that bad until Wrath Of The Lich King came out. I cannot stress just how much of a love/hate relationship I have for this undying series, it’s ironically no different from Arthas’ descent into madness and that moment the song “Invincible” played at the end of Wrath Of The Lich King, Arthas was already dead the moment he took up frostmorne, just like Warcraft was already dead the moment they released World Of Warcraft and while World Of Warcraft was tame at first, it was a deadly poison that slowly crippled the series like a form of cancer.

The History Of Blizzard

Blizzard essentially walked the same path as the very character they created, Arthas was once a paladin who only wanted to protect his people, much like Blizzard were a team of developers who actually made good quality games but both of them descended into madness. Sure you could argue that Blizzard didn’t murder anybody in the process but they did whatever they legally possibly could to make all of their fans miserable and fuck the consumer in the asshole.

The fact that Blizzard partnered with Activision really speaks for itself to be honest, in the words of Arthas in Warcraft 3, all I have to say to Blizzard Entertainment is: “You are past redemption”.

Games I couldn’t Finish: Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Here’s a new video idea I came up with, glad I could finally get all of this off my chest.

The whole concept of leveling up could be removed from Witcher 3 and it wouldn’t change a thing, heck it would actually make the game better and more believable as Geralt has gone through 2 other games and countless books prior to this, he should be max level already theoretically speaking so he would have no problem dealing with powerful giants at this point. Why have a leveling system in a game where you play as an experienced Witcher? Instead why not make all the enemies in this game scale to Geralt’s level (in which case have no levels at all, instead just make enemies as tough as the difficulty level)? Not only would it give players a chance to fight these tough creatures early on but it would also make the game feel less linear because certain quests just aren’t doable at low levels, you have to do the low level quests before the high level quests meaning you have to do the quests in a somewhat linear order kinda. Sure you do have options but there are enough of them. If you fight an enemy that has a skull near its level, it’s considered to be “certain death” by the game.

Seriously though If they worked on the combat, cut out everything that makes this game an RPG, it might have actually been a better game. As an RPG though… nope.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, I hope you can take something from this video.

 

Edit: Looking back I’d say that what I said at 28:27 was wrong, there is a lock on in that game but the staff has such long reach that you can hit multiple enemies with ease so I mistook that for not having a lock on. In Witcher 3 it’s a lot harder to deal with multiple enemies. I would also like to add that The Technomancer has a stun ability that can help with crowd control without having to constantly dodge everywhere, should have mentioned that really but I was doing this off the cuff so I was saying what was currently in my head without thinking.

Theorycrafting: Humor is serious business – The Value Of Humor In Videogame Narrative

Now I have always believed that narrative is not a vital component in videogames but for some people, narrative can be the driving force of a game. I would argue however that games are not the best platform to deliver a narrative experience and that to properly execute a meaningful story in a videogame, it is highly recommended that its serious themes are accompanied with comic relief.

People play videogames to be rewarded and while a serious narrative can be engaging to some, it can become quite overbearing for others to the point that it can become tedious. Unlike movies, videogames are built around not only their narrative but also the gameplay. As such the narrative often takes a backseat in most cases. However it is important to remember that the narrative serves as a rewarding element and if you choose to cater to players desiring this rewarding element, you need to understand the value of humor because players do not play videogames for the narrative, the narrative acts as a reward to the player.

As such the narrative needs to be concise, it needs to be brief but most importantly, it needs to be enjoyable. If a game’s narrative focuses too much on its serious themes, the story can quickly become convoluted, this is because narrative that is too serious will often fail to grab the attention of readers due to the fact that there is no shift in tone, making the story feel repetitive. Because of this, impatient readers will be unable to take in all the information, thus missing out important details which leads to them becoming lost in the narrative and this leads to them becoming bored very quickly.

There is a fine line between writing for a videogame and writing a book. Both require a completely different approach. As books are written with the intent of connecting readers to an imaginary world, it is important to go into as much detail as possible to describe each scenario in order to paint a clear picture in the minds of the reader.

In most cases, it is also important for a book to remain consistent in its theme as a believable world is a lot easier to connect with. For this reason, the inclusion of humor in some cases would be out of the question because humor is not the primary focus of the narrative nor is it a critical component of the narrative. A book that revolves around comedy specifically would serve a completely different purpose however, such books do not focus on connectivity, rather they focus on amusing the reader, as such these books would require a completely different approach entirely, much like a different style of game would.

One thing that both books and movies have in common is that their stories are a strictly linear experience where nothing can be hidden from the reader, as such there aren’t as many methods to conveying a story in books and graphic novels as there are in videogames. I would argue however that this limitation is what brings the best out of books as in order for them to stand out, they need to be well written or else they will fade into obscurity.

Since games are illustrated and have interactive elements that allow players to have more control over their experience, they do not need to rely on descriptive writing and often encourage players to discover the story for themselves through interaction, hence why talking to non playable characters in towns has become a commodity in RPG’s. This means that a varied style of narrative is plausible and in most cases critical as there is a lot more room for content. However videogames have another role to fill, engaging the player. To do this requires a strong, varied narrative that can be picked up quickly without players having to invest too much time into it beforehand.

The reason why many gamers consider character development to be critical to providing a strong narrative is simply due to the fact that videogame narrative needs to play out at a much faster pace than that of a book. While I have always disputed the importance of character development in videogame stories, I can easily argue that character development isn’t as important in books, in fact you could also argue that it’s not even needed.

The difference between reading a book and reading text off a screen might not seem like much on the surface but when you consider the people consuming the medium in which the text is written for, you will realize that they are both completely different. Books attract a fairly niché audience, usually introverted people looking to connect themselves to a world where they can take a backseat. Videogames on the other hand attract all kinds of different people, not all are patient enough to play through a long, detailed narrative and as such, videogame narrative should be catered with these people in mind as focusing on a niche would actually be a bad idea. Why is this? Because you aren’t writing a book, you’re making a game and games are meant to be played. The gameplay is a big factor and cannot be ignored, by catering your narrative to a wide audience, you can instead focus your gameplay on a specific niche. See what I’m getting at?

This is where my theory comes in. While it is not wrong for games to be serious or comical, too much of it can make for a very stale narrative. Unlike books where there is room for detail so that players can connect themselves to the story easier, in videogames there is not. This is because narrative is broken into chunks that are separated by the gameplay. These chunks serve as a reward for the player, the carrot on the stick you could say. As such the reward needs to be valuable. In a book, you aren’t reading to be rewarded and the narrative is not broken up, so you keep reading on.

Because of this games need to break up each individual chunk of narrative in a way that prevents it from getting stale so that players want to see more. Humor is a great way to spice things up and keep things varied so that the player can easily become engaged in the narrative. In fact I would argue that Humor is often critical in videogame storytelling, at least to some degree.

While some games get away without having much humor such as Warcraft 3, they still have the occasional quirky moment that keeps players on their toes when consuming the narrative.

Other games such as Grandia 2 have a great balance of both humor and serious moments that make for a very memorable experience.

While I won’t deny that Warcraft 3 has a far better story than Grandia 2, I would argue that as a game, Grandia 2’s narrative is far more complimentary than that of Warcraft 3’s and I’m not knocking Warcraft 3’s narrative, rather I am comparing the two in terms of videogame storytelling. I can’t imagine Grandia 2 ever getting a series of books or a movie like the Warcraft series has but as a game, the narrative does its job really well. In fact I would argue that Grandia 2 is the greatest example of a strong videogame narrative. It’s very easy to get into and the characters are easy to learn and identify, whereas in Warcraft 3, the characters require a time investment for the player to get to know and appreciate them, much like in a book.

This is where Grandia 2 succeeds where Warcraft 3 fails. I absolutely adore the Warcraft series’ storytelling as I love reading the books and watching the cutscenes so I won’t deny that its narrative is a valuable experience. However I would argue that Grandia 2’s cutscenes reward players with more value than the cutscenes of Warcraft 3. Understanding this is vital when writing a videogame narrative.

Now that you understand the differences, what about humor? How does humor make Grandia 2 stand out so well? That’s simple, the humor brings out the character’s personality. When the player first meets Ryudo, the game makes it very clear as to what type of character the player is going to be experiencing through its use of humor. Ryudo is a gruff mercenary with one hell of a bad attitude, you can tell that this is the case through his snarky one-liners which are not only humorous to read but they characterize Ryudo really well.

Ryudo is a very serious, no-nonsense type of character and doesn’t take kindly to other people holding him back, he is very principle driven and has expectations of other people requiring them to live by his principles in order for them to earn his approval. The game doesn’t tell you this however, instead you find out through the many implications found within his witty comebacks. By reading into Ryudo’s humorous statements, you can easily define his character. In fact you could argue that Ryudo is written so well that he doesn’t need any character development whatsoever, he could have remained the same type of character for the entire game and still be entertaining.

Of course Ryudo does change over the course of the game which is fine and all but I’m making a point here. Character development is not the important thing, what is important is writing characters in a subtle manner so the player does not have to waste time listening to the writer’s explanation of the character, this is basic common sense in all kinds of writing but the way Ryudo is written through humor really makes him stand out as a character, it not only gives him personality but it also gives the player a few laughs. This kills two birds with one stone which is very important when writing a narrative in a videogame.

My advice would be to read into who the character is and what the character is most likely to come into conflict with, now bend the conflict in a way that is designed to be humorous and there you have it. The beauty of having lots of different personalities is that they clash and when they do they can be expressed in all kinds of different ways but humor is an expression a lot of games seem to undervalue. I believe it is a very valuable form of expression that needs to be explored more.

However I want to talk about another problem. Games which are humorous for the sake of being humorous. Now I know we all have different tastes in humor here but games which try too hard to be funny just aren’t engaging to me. A lot of people see the Devil May Cry series as being a series built on humorous storytelling, they would be wrong.

Dante is a very serious character to the point that he can be made into a humorous character. The point is that the funniest characters are typically the more serious ones and humorous narrative requires a serious space to have any lasting appeal. On the surface, Grandia 2 is nothing more than a giant cheeseball but Grandia 2 actually has a very serious narrative with a lot of very serious themes and a strong message that it is trying to deliver to the player. Rather than coating it in melodrama however, the game builds a bright, colourful and comical atmosphere to accompany these moments which creates a strong contrast that ultimately brings a very varied and engaging narrative that can easily be picked up on by just about anyone. It is for this reason that I strongly recommend Grandia 2 to just about anyone who enjoys JRPG’s.

However, games such as Disgaea and Borderlands fail to deliver to me the same experience, despite being “humorous”. As I was unable to take the game seriously I was also unable to take the humor seriously. This was the problem with these games for me, it’s just not engaging enough for me to even invest my time into the humor. These games feel extremely hollow and it is because of this that they fail to engage me. I pray that developers in the future can understand the value of humor and seriousness in a videogame’s narrative and how they can be blended together to make for a highly engaging experience for the player so that perhaps one day we can experience another game that can match the experience of Grandia 2.

Theorycrafting: The Importance Of Pacing In Videogames

Pacing is one of the most important aspects of game design in my opinion and is one of the biggest challenges you will face when designing your game.

So you’ve solved a problem and you’ve decided how you’re going to motivate players to play your game but how can we engage them? I talked about engagement beforehand but In that video I mainly talked about the commonly used systems that many games use to build engagement. Now it’s time to get more in-depth and talk about pacing. Pacing is arguably the biggest factor that decides whether or not your game will be engaging. While it isn’t the only factor, pacing can make or break a game depending on how well it is implemented.

Now I have previously brought up the terms: real-time, synchronized time and turn based. These terms will be very important in this video as they are ultimately what will govern the style of pace you want for your game. The hard part comes with deciding how you want to pace your game as not all games have explored these terms and for good reason. A racing game could never work as a turn based or synchronized time based game because its core mechanism revolves around reaction time and dexterity which contradicts a turned based style of pacing.

Nevertheless, pacing is a science which has yet to be fully explored, much like many other aspects of game design. I can however point out fundamental flaws in games where the pacing and the nature of the game contradict one another. Real Time Strategy is essentially a flawed genre for this reason. While it is important to use time as a means of adding tension, a game that has too many things to manage will contradict its real-time pacing.

However, if we separate the nature and the pacing of Real Time Strategy, we can clearly see that real-time and strategy are not incompatible by nature, hence why it is not the genre, rather it is the games that are commonly labeled with the RTS genre that I have issues with. Real Time and Strategy could possibly work together but it would come at a cost. If you’re going to make a game work in real time, it needs to be adaptable to real time gameplay. Too much management can compromise a real time game and as such the inputs required to execute strategic choices need to be as straightforward as possible so that players can feel comfortable playing your game.

One could argue that Final Fantasy XIII is closer to that of a Real Time Strategy than a Turned Based Strategy and they wouldn’t be wrong. The ATB bar is very similar to that of a unit production timer that you would usually see in a traditional RTS. On the other hand I would argue that games like Grandia are closer to turn based, as the game pauses when you are about to enter a command.

Final Fantasy XIII’s biggest flaw was the fact that it was forced to implement an auto battle option in order for players to keep up with the pacing of the gameplay. As such, players would use that option over actually picking skills manually because of how its real-time influences the game’s rules, as auto battle is arguably the most efficient option due to the fact that picking skills manually forces them to navigate through menus which wastes valuable time.

In a turn based game, this would never be the case as the game pauses when you are navigating through the menu which makes sense as navigating menus is a meaningless activity that has absolutely no connection to the player’s strategic choice. As such, while Grandia may have an ATB gauge, the game works completely differently to Final Fantasy XIII as the decision-making process isn’t governed by real-time, Final Fantasy XIII’s is.

This is what greatly differentiates the two. You could argue that Final Fantasy XIII was received poorly for this reason, because it didn’t work. The question is, could it work?

Well that depends, are you willing to narrow down the number of choices in order to have a tighter level of control in your game to make up for it? The problem is, doing so could actually turn your game into an action game because even action games have some decision-making involved, it just isn’t as noticeable. There is a fine line between action and strategy that can be crossed if developers are not careful.

This is where games labeled as RTS are flawed, as the outcome is often influenced more by the number of actions per minute rather than the decision-making process. Take Warcraft 3’s four versus four for example. Due to the fact that large battles favor massing powerful units, certain units such as the Banshee become false choices as they are lesser units designed to support more powerful units. This makes the decision making process weaker. Most players will use Frost wyrms, fiends, chimeras, hippogryphs, siege engines, mortar teams and bats depending on their race.

Because Warcraft 3 suffers from a lot of balancing issues, the outcome of a 4V4 game is usually influenced by what races are on what team but if you were to play in an all undead mirror game, the team with the most combined action per minute wins. As such, Warcraft 3 is not a strategy game anymore, it is an action game.

Then we have synchronized time. Synchronized time is where time moves when the player inputs certain actions. In other words, the pacing of the game can vary from slow to fast depending on how quickly the player acts. While this might seem like a good thing at first, it’s important to remember that synchronized time changes the rules considerably from real-time and unlike turned based, it wouldn’t really work in a multiplayer game.

In addition to all this, it is important to note that certain genres just wouldn’t work well with synchronized time because it would contradict their very nature. Games like Mount And Blade, Valkyrie Profile 2, Mystery Dungeon and Superhot all use synchronized time in some shape or form.

Now that we’ve covered the basic pacing methods, it’s time to refine them. In order to do this we need to find an answer to a more complicated question, “how does the pacing of a game differ between two games which use the same style of pacing?”

Since this is a lot to take in, I’m going to aid you in the process of solving this issue and as such I have come up with a guideline, not a be all and end all… but a guideline on how to decide what style of pacing you want your game to be so that you can clearly understand what this process involves and how important it really is.

This guideline focuses on two aspects of a game which are polar opposites. In terms of racing games for example, supporting mechanisms make up these two opposite ends of the spectrum. One one hand you have games which focus on control and on the other hand you have games which focus on building up speed. I can safely say that all racing games need both mechanisms to function but one is usually going to outclass the other. This is where the decision-making process comes in.

Now the guideline suggests that games on either end of the spectrum are going to be niche… however for the sake of brevity, let’s say that this guideline is used to judge how good a game is. Lets say games on opposite sides of the spectrum are the best games in their genre.

Lets use first person shooters as an example. On one end of the spectrum you have games like Arma and Half Life. On the other end you have games like Quake and Painkiller.  Now that’s not to say that Arma and Half Life are the same because they’re very different but so are Painkiller and Quake. Each game has its own identity which separates it from the other. What these games share with one another is not the style of gameplay but rather the pacing of the game. In Half Life you spend a good portion of the game roaming the maps, hunting for ammunition and solving puzzles. In Arma you spend a lot of time positioning yourself in strategic positions as well as carefully aiming your weapon.

Quake and Painkiller on the other hand has you firing off bullets like there’s no tomorrow and you will be moving very quickly through levels, dodging bullets and other hazards like a god. Now there’s no secret that Painkiller was heavily inspired by Quake 2, you could even argue that it is Quake 3’s true single player campaign as its mechanics are very close to that of Quake 3’s. The level structure however is different. Painkiller is more linear, with large, open arenas to fight in, Quake is more contained and maze-like. Once thing is for certain though, both games are fast and will require a lot more reaction timing to master, Arma on the other hand requires more precision. While both games require a form of dexterity, it is merely the way in which players utilize their dexterity that differs and this completely changes not only the pacing but the entire nature of the gameplay experience as a whole.

As such you can clearly see how important pacing is, pacing can transform games. As a result, you have to be very careful with how you decide to pace your game. Does it fit in with your vision? This is the hardest question of them all because you might have the vision for the perfect game only for it to be ruined by poor pacing. As such you have yourself a dilemma. This is why pacing is so difficult because you don’t want to waste valuable resources trying to make a solid game only for it to fall apart because you realized that the pacing and the vision do not fit together. Then you have to re-think everything all over again and scrap the project.

To alleviate this issue. It might be important to pick the style of pacing first before you pick a vision, it sounds counter-intuitive but believe me, you won’t regret it. This will narrow down the scope of your vision drastically but this also helps you make a more calculated decision when it comes to designing your vision. Afterwards all you have to do is make sure the vision and your style of pacing work in tangent. In order to do so, you need to come up with creative mechanisms, ideally ones which kill two birds with one stone. Remember that the less mechanisms your game relies on, the less you will have to put in your game and the more simple and accessible your game will be. In addition, dealing with too many mechanisms can be costly and time is precious so it is very important to be creative with your ideas in order to hit that sweet spot.

Why Are Videogames Still $60.00? – Publishers/Developers Need To Adapt!

Inflation is often the counter argument to our complaints against microtransactions, DLC, season passes and premium editions. Some people seem to think that the gaming industry is having a hard time dealing with inflation and that microtransactions and DLC are essentially the replacement for the $70.00 price tag.

This is due to the fact that for god knows what reason, game developers assume that people will not pay $70.00 for a videogame and as such they need to chop up the game in segments and make us pay $120 for a complete game and $60.00 for 75% of a game. Ask yourself this question, why did net neutrality exist to begin with? That’s simple, because net neutrality enforced ISP’s to offer fair deals. Sadly the same cannot be said for the gaming industry because it is difficult to discern the value of games, hence the reason why I started adding a value to every single game I review… because that’s what the game is worth to me.

But what if this was to be the case? What if games were valuated in the same way a property is valuated? Unlike ISP’s which can be valued based on clear facts, videogames are a highly subjective medium, we can’t simply judge a game’s value… or can we? Of course we fucking can, why the hell do you think I started reviewing games in the first place?

My philosophy is that you can still measure the quality of any medium no matter how subjective it may be, those measurements may be personal, sure but I think all games have a median value and that we as game critics should take action and decide how much a game is worth. Sites like Metacritic are wasted potential for this reason, they allow people to give a game a score and the combined value of each person’s score is the outcome. Perhaps if Metacritic allowed for people to valuate a game then we would have a weapon that we could use against the scummy publishers who overcharge us for games, a way to spread a strong, shared message.

Of course it would likely be abused by people but I think such an idea is important to think about considering we have Youtube channels like Extra Credits which are actually justifying microtransactions and DLC and explaining to us that these practices are necessary for the gaming industry to stay afloat. That’s a lie! Take a look at the steam store page and look at all these indie titles, look at their price tag, do you see many Indie games priced at $60.00? Nope. Why? Because indie developers aren’t so arrogant as to think that they can control the prices of their games through brand influence and marketing… unlike AAA publishers who get away with it every single time.

Why do they get away with it? Because we let them! We have been getting ripped off for years now. I hate to use the word “we” because I understand that some of us, myself included have held ourselves back from purchasing certain games due to the unethical practices associated with them. The masses on the other hand continue to consume these games and as such videogame publishers have maintained the value of their games. So why can’t indie’s do the same? That’s simple, indie developers are making games that nobody wants to play. They realize that they cannot compete on the same level as AAA game developers as they lack the funds to properly market their game, let alone add features most AAA games offer which would require strong marketing in order for the additional costs required to implement these features to be viable as they need to make that money back.

So you can clearly see that the gaming industry is completely one-sided, the big AAA companies have dictated the exact value of our games. It’s about time we, the consumer decides what we are prepared to spend on a game. We need to discipline ourselves better and just say “no”. How hard is it to miss out on a yearly release that isn’t going to be too much different from the last? I skipped Pokemon Black/White but I still played Pokemon X and Y and I didn’t feel like I missed out.

I personally think that the average gaming consumer needs to grow a nutsack and do what I did with Pokemon Black/White. If the game is not impressing you, don’t buy it, it’s simple. Ok let me rephrase this, if a game looks like it isn’t worth paying $60.00, don’t buy it at $60.00… got it? I don’t think you have, so I’m going to go further into this.

The biggest problem with most of you people is that you’re too impatient. You people seem to have this mindset in which you condition yourself to play every single game the moment it is released. Now as a games blogger, I get it. I pre-ordered Kingdom Come Deliverance. Why? Because it’s a game I would actually like to make content for and if I bought the game too late (which I often do) then the interest in the game would dwindle, especially if it ends up being a bad game. As such it is important for me to at least play 1 new release.

Nier Automata Review 10

Last year I played Nier Automata and in my review, I mentioned feeling ripped off because I was charged an extra £5.00 on top of the usual £40.00 and how the game just wasn’t worth £45.00. Nier Automata was the only game I played that was released last year and as such it wins the Cynical Gaming Blog’s Game Of The Year award 2017 for being the only game I played that was released in 2017, nothing more, nothing less.

If you expect me to give Nier Automata a medal for being an underwhelming attempt to impress me, you must be out of your mind. I tore that game a new asshole and rightfully so, the game needed to be put in its place so I put it in its place. Did I give it a bad rating? No because it’s not a bad game but can I say that I thoroughly enjoyed it enough to warrant the price of £45.00? Hell no, I valued it at £40.00 and that was a very generous valuation for the monotony that game put me through in its later sections.

Before writing my review of Nier Automata, I was conflicted. Should I be forgiving or should I be harsh? Some reviewers would argue that they should be completely unbiased and objective, I’m not one of those reviewers. Sure I can highlight some points that may affect people in a positive/negative way but I’m not going to copy/paste a Wikipedia article, I’m going to express exactly how I felt playing Nier Automata because that expression is how I illustrate my experience of the game so that you, the reader can make up your own mind based on the things I mention in my review.

I’m glad I chose the latter, my Nier Automata review is a symbol, a symbol that I will not tolerate any kind of bullshit in this industry, if you have the nerve to up the price tag, watch your back, I will spread the word of your bullshit. I am always watching, observing your attempts to get us to pay more than we should and one of these days you might find your game suffer the same fate as Nier Automata did in my review.

Now what about inflation you ask? First of all, have you noticed that games are not only adding more DLC and microtransactions but they are also going up in price? Is James Portnow blind or something? He points out that games are not going up in price when technically they are, take a good look around, Blue Reflection was £49.99 at launch, Exist Archive was £49.99 at launch, Nier Automata was £44.99 at launch and finally there’s Ys VIII which was also £44.99 at launch. Now I’m starting to see a trend here, all of these games are made in Japan. Are we paying extra for localization now? I made a blog about this ages ago but I seriously think that this is the case.

Plus notice how these prices differ, some charge £5.00 for localization, others charge £10.00 for localization. How does that make sense? How can 1 localization cost more than another? This is absolute nonsense, someone is clearly profiting off of this and sure, these are companies, it’s their job to profit from our misery… but as consumers it’s our job to stop that from happening and keeping the balance. Why aren’t we doing this!?

So in response to James Portnow’s recent extra credits video about the prices of games and how they shouldn’t be $60.00, take a closer look and you will find that the base prices of games started going up way before you uploaded your video. I’d also like to note that Nier Automata generated a ton of sales despite this lofty price tag. So technically your justification for the industry’s need to implement DLC and microtransactions in their games is absolutely bloody ludicrous. Add to that the fact that these companies are still capable of squandering this money on high quality graphics and trailers (I’m looking at you Activision-Blizzard), if inflation was as bad as you make it out to be, would they still be able to afford this? Hell no.

In fact, the only people who suffer as a result are indie developers which is quite sad because indie developers often tend to charge way too little for their games. I purchased Prison Architect’s “name in-game” bundle (which includes 4 other games) for under £15.00, a price so low that I might as well just put my own name in the game for spending so little money on a game that offers so much because I have committed daylight robbery and thus I should be imprisoned for at least 2 months.

prison architect for article

So why is it that a game like Prison Architect (it’s a good game by the way) manages to charge a measly £14.99 when Call Of Duty WW2 charges £44.99? It doesn’t make any sense to me. So how can inflation affect the industry in such a way that requires games to charge $70.00? Fun fact: it doesn’t.

You see, inflation is a fancy word for “Adapt”. When prices are required to go up, it is natural that the quality offered by the product will go up with the price. I remember back in the early 2000’s when a game called Pokemon Gold and Silver was released. After playing Pokemon Yellow and enjoying it, I was excited for Pokemon Gold and Silver. When I finally played Pokemon Gold and Silver however, my expectations for the game were more than met, heck I was blown away by how much they managed to add to the game. Pokemon Gold and Silver is a good example as to how games should adapt to inflation, by being more valuable than the previous game in the series. The problem is, this just isn’t the case anymore, games are getting worse, not better.

The existence of all these “re-boots” is due to the fact that game developers have completely run out of ideas on how to build on a series and as such they reboot it as an excuse to use their brand’s power to generate income without having to enhance their game, rather they make something completely different which may or may not be better than the previous game. There’s no real quality control anymore, instead there is a system that verifies if a game can psychologically influence the consumer to purchase not just a single product but multiple products in the form of microtransactions. This is what the gaming industry has become and we have to accept this. As such, we need to put our foot down and force game publishers to provide us with quality experiences like they did back in sixth gen.

Sure you can argue that there have been some great games released this generation. I personally enjoyed Odin Sphere Leifthrasir the most this generation, a sixth gen game completely rebuilt from the ground up. Why is it that a re-release of a game released in sixth gen just happens to be my favorite game of eighth gen so far? For those of you who are still unconvinced, I have reviewed several sixth gen games on this site that you probably haven’t played before. Go play them, then come back and if you still don’t get the point I’m trying to make, I clearly haven’t reviewed the right game for you yet. There have been so many games released on PS2 that I’d be fucking dead by the time I counted them all, go play them!

Theorycrafting: Immersion is the byproduct of meaningful choices

Getting players immersed into your game is no easy feat. Many developers think that immersing players is as simple as creating realistic environments and mechanics, in this video I will argue against this flawed mindset and explain how we can make our games feel more immersive.

Mount And Blade Warband is a game not known for having realistic visuals or animations but it is hands down one of the most immersive games I have ever played. As such the video will show you an epic siege battle that managed to turn the tide in one of the toughest conflicts I have had in Mount And Blade.

I hope you pay attention to how dated the animation and visuals are to help you understand my points as the video is supposed to show how lacking Mount And Blade is in this department but to also show a sense of scale to illustrate just how incredible it is to launch your army into a siege.

Star Ocean 5 Stream – The Value Of Gaming Discussion, Games I’m Looking Forward To, E-Sports Are Trash

0:00 – 7:00 Updates and stuff

7:00 – 11:33 Talking about Star Ocean 5

11:33 – 19:00 My opinion on alcohol and the hypocrisy of people who don’t drink it for health reasons.

19:00 – 32:45 Why consumer criticism is undervalued

32:45 – 41:30 Why I want to grow an audience on Cynical Gaming Blog/Youtube

41:30 – 45:15 Talking about Star Ocean 5 some more

45:15 – 49:50 Being in minority groups, going against the masses

49:50 – 54:50 Measuring games in terms of popularity and value are completely different things.

54:50 – 1:00:00 The need for intellectual gaming discussion and why I need your input

1:00:00 – 1:09:46 Getting rid of Steam Greenlight was a bad idea. How the problem needs to be solved.

1:09:46 – 1:11:10 ReviewTechUSA stealing Silent Rob’s video

1:11:10 – 1:15:48 Explaining my principles

1:15:48 – 1:27:00 The importance of focused game design

1:27:00 – 1:32:27 Talking about Sidequests and how games need to focus on solving problems by improving pre-established features

1:32:27 – 1:39:50 How influencing the mass market is like playing the game design lottery and why it’s so important to do so

1:39:50 – 1:48:38 The truth about Tri-Ace and why Star Ocean 5 was poorly received.

1:48:38 – 1:54:45 Learning and setting skills

1:54:45 – 2:04:35 Looking For Sidequests and Private Actions

2:04:35 – 2:58:30 Games I’m looking forward to playing in 2018 + Witcher 3 Rant

2:58:30 – 3:21:40 Experimenting with Synthesis and Item Creation

3:21:40 – 3:25:25 Continuing with main story

3:25:25 – 3:47:00 The problem with E-sports and why I think we’d be more better off without them

3:47:00 – 3:50:47 Stream ends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What makes MMORPG’s so successful?

ultima online

This is a topic that I have had in my mind for a while now, MMORPG’s have been widely successful in the past few years, however their popularity has started to slowly deteriorate in recent years. Looking closely at the genre as a whole, it is easy to see that there are a lot of reasons why people play MMORPG’s and almost all of them have a psychological impact on a player’s approach to such games. This makes MMORPG’s one of the most diverse genre’s in gaming which is appealing in itself, sometimes to a fault. This is ultimately what has led to the success of the MMORPG genre as a whole.

The reason why people enjoy MMORPG’s however is tough to answer. We all have different tastes as games and MMORPG’s offer a diverse quantity of activities to engage in. Let’s look at World Of Warcraft for example. There are many different types of World Of Warcraft players and the game attracts an extremely wide audience for this reason however there is one thing that grabs the player’s attention almost immediately. That would be the game’s theme. Warcraft is known for having a very strong lore and setting. You could say that in theory, an MMORPG is the best way to accompany such a title, this is evident with the release of Star Wars The Old Republic, a game based on a series that has built up a massive fan base through its iconic lore and setting which rivals that of World Of Warcraft.

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As such, themes are an important component when developing an MMORPG, it may appear to be quite silly at first but when you consider the vast amount of MMORPG’s on the market it kind of makes sense. The most popular MMO of all time, Word Of Warcraft has a theme that a lot of people can identify with and that many people have likely already invested themselves in. So a strong theme is usually the first thing that grabs people’s attention but what makes a strong theme?

A strong theme is a byproduct of engaging lore which is a byproduct of strong world building and iconic characters. Allow me to break things down for you by using Star Wars as an example. A lot of people are strongly invested in the Star Wars universe for many reasons but when you look at popular culture the most prominent character in the Star Wars universe who appears to have shaped the series is Darth Vader. What makes Darth Vader stand out from the rest is his back story, much like Arthas was in Warcraft 3, Vader was once a noble jedi who fought against the dark side of the force under the name of Anakin Skywalker but after performing what is known as one of the most notorious face-heel turn’s in pop culture, he turned to the dark side of the force and betrayed everybody who trusted him.

Warcraft arthas

It’s funny how both Star Wars The Old Republic and World Of Warcraft are so very similar in the sense that they both use the same trope for their most prominent characters but that is not to say it is the only way to approach a game’s theme. The face-heel turn trope was simply executed in a way that strongly impacted the connection between the person and the character. I think the reason why this worked so well is the fact that it allowed players to experience two sides of the same coin or as I like to call “multiple perspectives” as mentioned in my previous article.

What does this all have to do with MMORPG’s you ask? Well when you consider the vast amount of MMORPG’s on the market and the ones who succeeded the most, you will recognize the importance of the game’s theme. An MMORPG without a theme is a very shallow experience and while many successful MMORPG’s exist without having an established theme prior to the game’s release, these games haven’t aged too well.

ultima online in game

If we look at Ultima online for example, it is based on a series which is comprised of 9 other games filled to the brim with world building content, Lord British being one of the more prominent characters in said game. Ultima Online was the first MMO to gain recognition by the masses and essentially pioneered the genre. Afterwards games such as Runescape, Everquest and Tibia followed suit in an attempt to cash in on the success of Ultima Online, it wouldn’t be long before World Of Warcraft itself would take hold of the market and make what was quite possibly the most profitable decision Blizzard have ever made. They had a huge opportunity and they took it at the cost of the series’ lore (which I’m still salty about to this day).

As such World Of Warcraft’s strong theme grabbed the attention of the masses quickly and became a juggernaut. In fact, World Of Warcraft has become so successful that many people have forgotten the RTS series that made it so big in the first place, Warcraft. This has ultimately proven to be detrimental to the series as a whole from a lore enthusiast’s perspective as it has catered the series’ storyline to a broader audience causing many problems for players who were highly engaged in the original trilogy’s storytelling.

warcraft 3 terenas ambassador

As one of those people, I am very cynical towards the MMORPG genre as a whole but that isn’t the only reason. MMORPG’s have the tendency to focus primarily on psychological engagement often using microtransactions to exploit the consumer’s lust for growth by providing them the option to pay for services with real money. This often comes at a cost to the gameplay itself. Games such as GTA Online is notorious for making progression a tedious grind by making their obstacles more of an ordeal to overcome rather than fun and rewarding players with low amounts of experience and in-game cash in order to psychologically influence people to spend their hard-earned money on shark cards.

MMORPG’s as a whole rely on slow progression in order to maintain engagement. What they’re forgetting is that they are catering to a massive audience. I personally believe this is partially what has led to the slow drop in popularity of the MMORPG genre as people simply do not want to invest any more time into these games anymore. For example the age demographic of Runescape players have grown up and this caused a severe drop in player activity among other things. The addition of microtransactions was implemented for this very reason. Instead of improving the game, Jagex decided that the best cause of action was to seek an alternative method to making money, much like other companies in the gaming industry, Jagex will do everything in their power to avoid improving their games and maintain a solid income to keep their servers running and keep their staff paid.

rs2client 2017-05-14 18-01-40-72

I feel that a lot of MMORPG’s have grown to rely on this feature since their drop in popularity but this is definitely not the answer we consumers want, this merely solves a one-sided problem and that being the developer/publisher’s need to make money. It is evident that MMORPG’s focus less on releasing quality content and more on quantity that is supposed to keep people playing the game but that is not how the rules of engagement work.

Engagement requires players to be invested in something, it requires motivation and motivation requires a rewarding element. The problem isn’t the lack of rewarding elements however, rather it is the time investment required to earn said rewarding element. As such MMORPG’s need to find a new way to keep players engaged and microtransactions are not the answer.

 

MMORPG’s have the tendency to focus primarily on psychological engagement often using microtransactions to exploit the consumer’s lust for growth by providing them the option to pay for services with real money

 

So we have found the problem but what is the solution? This is where creativity comes into play, something that developers seem to have forgotten about. MMORPG’s are certainly a challenge to design as they are designed to attract a wide audience. As such it is difficult to figure out what players ultimately desire in the game and as a result there is no absolute method to keep players engaged.

The only way that MMORPG’s are going to maintain relevance is by narrowing their target audience. I know it sounds counter-intuitive in a genre that is designed to attract a massive audience but I do believe that it is needed. To know what audience you need to attract you need to find out what said audience wants. There are what I like to call the 3 core audiences in MMORPG’s. These are commonly known as PVPers (Player Vs Player), PVEers (Player Vs Environment) and RPers (Roleplay). The first two audience are easier to cater to as they represent the masses.

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To cater to the PVP audience you need to understand the concept of false choices and how they can be detrimental to your game. PVP is all about balancing. Games which focus on PVP are often criticized for having balancing issues. As a result having more choices and options does not automatically make your game better, it can actually make your game worse unless it is properly managed. I do think that having some level of choice is important to gain the player’s interest but it is important to realize what each choice brings to the table and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

This is where the tricky part comes in. The more choices you provide the harder it is to balance the game because every choice acts as a weight to the scales. It is not as simple as merely dumping ideas on each side of the scale, you need to consider every single facet of each idea brought to the table and how it affects other ideas. Only then can you properly balance it. Think of it like solving a rubix cube. As you move one side, the other side will change as well until you can get each face to show only one colour, you have yet to solve the puzzle. This is the process of balancing and it can be an extremely strenuous task to take on.

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Then you have PVE also known as player vs environment. The process of designing PVE is similar to that of regular RPG’s. Provide the player with a scenario that involves working together to overcome an obstacle. The goal of PVE is to give players a challenge that forces them to work together to overcome it. Most MMORPG’s rely on inherent complexity to create devious obstacles that require both a strong mind and team co-ordination to overcome. The problem with this however is that many of these obstacles often lead to trial and error and this can irritate players. Many RPG’s tend to focus on inherent complexity due to the fact that they complicate their rules with the intent of presenting players with many false choices in order to keep things interesting.

Sadly this can be applied to all strategy games that are focused on single/co-operative play and as a result there is often a barrier of entry to these games, MOBA’s are the worst offender for this relying solely on Inherent complexity to provide a challenge. With inherent complexity being an important component in designing an engaging PVE experience, this can heavily divide the audience of a game’s player base and is quite possibly one of the biggest reasons why players tend to get frustrated playing MMORPG’s.

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 Path Of Exile may seem like a mindless action game on the surface but its character management systems are inherently complex..

But to focus on PVE, you will need to add some level of complexity, there really isn’t much of a choice really. This is why World Of Warcraft has so many different statistics. It is not simply to get players to gaze in awe at the many parameters, rather it is to essentially overwhelm the player with many different choices, many of which being false choices. Ultimately I would say that the best way to approach PVE is to give purpose to each choice in some way or another. If you don’t use *insert ability here* on one boss, you might want to use it on another boss. Keeping a diverse range of obstacles is the best way to keep players engaged. It’s important to encourage players not to rely on the same methods when it comes to PVE and instead have players experiment with different methods and see which works best. Don’t forget to test those methods in order to fine tune your difficulty.

Experimentation is key and as such you will want to focus your game on experimental design rather than methodical design. This is what makes RPG’s so unique from other genres as they tend to combine inherent complexity with experimental gameplay in order to present a challenge for players to overcome. There are also games such as Child Of Light which are surprisingly very simple and focus on emergent complexity with the cancel mechanic allowing players to time their attacks in order to cancel out the incoming attack. This cannot work for MMO’s however simply because MMO’s are built to last and games such as Child Of Light do not last in such an environment because those games are quickly “beaten” and the strategies are quickly set in stone as they are easy to learn.

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The biggest issue is the unfortunate eventuality that all MMORPG’s will eventually be beaten. In fact, you could say that these games tend to be beaten faster than one would think. This is due to the fact that MMO’s tend to have groups known as “first world clans” which are clans dedicated to becoming the first group to overcome the obstacles and are often the first people to establish the solution. This information is then spread to the masses and afterwards the game becomes a monotonous grind as players already know the solution to the obstacle, the challenge is simply getting all players informed and keeping the team coordinated which is a lot harder than it sounds.

So PVE in MMO’s often tends to revolve around using complicated mechanics to influence a heavy focus on team play. Understanding this is only half the battle though, finding the answer is a different kettle of fish altogether. Is there really an answer to this problem or will MMORPG’s continue to stagnate in the PVE department. If you are going to tackle this then you have to be a better man than me. As someone who prides himself on his intuition, even I have become mind-boggled by this and as a result I am unable to find a solution that will work for everything, at least not without completely changing the game from the ground up. I do have some ideas though, developing an MMOFPSRPG might be one way of solving this problem as FPS games tend to have a lot of room for emergent complexity as it adds the extra layer of challenge in the form of movement and aiming.

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You could argue that these games are the future but I would also like to bring your attention to a game I’m quite fond of, Mount And Blade Warband. Already, Mount And Blade Warband has managed to surpass the MMORPG genre in my eyes. Sure the experience is more solitary but the scale of things are much bigger and more immersive. However what I would like to focus on is the gameplay. By using its simplistic yet intricate blocking system, Mount And Blade Warband has a lot of emergent complexity to the point that the multiplayer has a very strong learning curve. Sure anyone can simply swing a sword but how do you approach an attacking foe?

Mount And Blade, much like in real world combat is all about mind games and reflexes. In order to control a battle, you must be constantly aware of the enemy’s actions and know the most effective method of countering said action, plus the dexterity to pull it off. This is what makes Mount And Blade so unique in comparison to other games and the silly thing is that its multiplayer tends to focus on PVP rather than PVE. However modders have managed to incorporate PVE elements into the multiplayer adding bots for the players to fight against as a team. This makes for some really exciting gameplay as players are constantly on their toes performing actions with the utmost of dexterity and intelligence.

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If you ask me, I’d say that the ideal game is one that manages to incorporate the gameplay of Mount And Blade with the universe of Warcraft. Now imagine if World Of Warcraft inherited the gameplay of Mount And Blade. That is my philosophy on how to make the best PVE experience possible in an MMORPG.

Finally we have RP otherwise known as “Role Play”. Not to be confused with “Role Playing Game”, role play is what I like to call an adult version of “playing house” but on a much larger scale. Basically you put yourself in a persona that is your avatar and you act out your avatar in-game. Yes it is very nerdy stuff but A lot of people are engaged in it and I would definitely say that it is an important component of any MMORPG.

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Roleplaying has been given a bad name over the years. This is often due to the blatant elitism of roleplayers. If you are planning on targeting roleplayers as a whole, the MMORPG genre definitely isn’t for you. This is because tabletop RPG’s are the best platform for just about any roleplaying experience as it negates all of the elitism that comes with it by allowing you to play with other people and respect one another allowing other people to learn how to role play more effectively rather than being shunned by a condescending player base who are hiding behind their anonymity.

Of course this doesn’t mean that computer games shouldn’t keep role players in mind. Role playing in computer games has become very popular and it is a good idea to accommodate these players. It is important to remember however that the game you are designing is a game to be played. My advice is that if you wish to focus on roleplay, you will want to incorporate more story-focused elements in your game rather than just simply giving players progression. This often means that you will fall into the trap of having to artificially lengthen your game through slow progression.

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However, games with an established theme need not be too concerned with story elements as they already have an established lore. These games simply need to give roleplayers the tools and the environment to impact their role-playing experience in a positive way. Role-playing is essentially a metagame attached to most MMORPG’s and while it is a popular activity, it should still recognized as a metagame. It is impossible to mechanically strengthen role playing in any videogame and any attempt to do so may actually cause more problems than it really needs to. The same can be said for thematic design choices, for example, forcing players to choose between Alliance or Horde only serves to limit the player’s possibilities in roleplay rather than make their roleplay more engaging as they are only able to roleplay from the perspective of the faction that they chose.

Of course there is no limit to the player’s imagination, the purpose of implementing roleplaying elements is to avoid disorienting the player with aesthetic limitations. As such, the goal of all role play focused computer games is to give players a diverse amount of aesthetic tools such as costumes and skins to keep the player immersed and engaged in their role play. This can work with just about any game, just don’t forget that personalization is a rewarding element and that role-playing gives purpose to personalization. In a way, you are given a free ticket to engagement by this player-made metagame so take advantage of this by rewarding players with more cool cosmetic outfits.

path of exile Microtransactions

This is another thing that MMORPG’s have exploited with the use of microtransactions as many MMO’s use cosmetic microtransactions to fund themselves. This is almost a universally accepted method of incorporating microtransactions but it is certainly not the most ideal method from the consumer’s perspective. There are so many ways to reward roleplaying but this is best left to the players themselves as it is essentially a meta game. This is where tabards in World Of Warcraft come into play. By giving players an emblem printed on their outfit, they feel rewarded for partaking in role play. What games need to do is provide clan leaders with more options to reward players for their role playing efforts with cosmetics.

Now that you know how to cater to your audience, you need to execute the solution but it is not quite as simple as this. Since MMO’s are built to last, the process of problem solving must be repeated time and time again to maintain a strong player base. This is what I believe most MMORPG’s seem to be forgetting. Problem solving is important for games to maintain their relevance in popular culture and when a game is built to last a long time, many problems will need to be solved to keep the game fresh and attract an even bigger audience to keep those numbers high. Taking all these things into account, developing an MMORPG is no easy task.

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If your goal is to develop a successful MMORPG I strongly advise you to reconsider. The most successful MMO’s are often byproducts of already successful franchises, a place for fans to gather and socialize. When I asked players what they enjoyed the most in an MMORPG, most who responded told me that the social aspect of the game is what keeps them engaged, not the gameplay, the story or the aesthetics. Do we even need MMO’s to be games? Or do they serve a greater purpose than simply providing players with engaging activities? Perhaps MMO’s are designed to bring gamers together in a heavily social environment. In a way you could consider Playstation Home to be an MMO as it does just that. Games such as Club Penguin did the same thing, people didn’t play it for the minigames, they played it to stand around and talk to people in a world that was built primarily for such interaction.

As such, social interaction is the core focus of all MMORPG’s regardless of gameplay and just about anything else a game needs and it is logically impossible to control a social environment as it is shaped by the players and only by the players. You could argue that MMO’s serve as the ultimate platform for metagaming and you wouldn’t be far from the truth. It is important however to provide guidelines to help players adapt to the social environment and this is where the gameplay comes into play. Rather than focusing way too hard on providing a difficult challenge, try to provide activities that require good coordination that aren’t too inherently complex.

 

Do we even need MMO’s to be games? Or do they serve a greater purpose than simply providing players with engaging activities? Perhaps MMO’s are designed to bring gamers together in a heavily social environment.

 

Games like football for example are a social activity that is not inherently too complex but has a lot of emergent complexity and focus on teamwork. Trying to fit such an activity in a virtual space is ultimately the goal of all MMORPG’s. It is the biggest reason why games like Fifa and Madden are so popular, and one of the biggest reasons why games like Rocket League became so successful. Social interaction plays a big part in these games for better or worse and as such designing the game in a way that allows you to manage the social interaction indirectly is what every MMORPG needs to do.

My personal stance on MMORPG’s as a whole is that they contradict themselves. The two rewarding elements commonly associated with MMORPG’s are invested empowerment and personalization. Both are single-handedly crushed by the simple fact that these games are designed to be played online. This means that when the servers go down, the player’s progress is essentially taken away from them as well as the personalized avatar that they have grown attached to.  This is why I tend to prefer games such as Mount And Blade Warband which are single player games that can be played offline and all the data is stored directly on the player’s hard drive. In addition, Mount And Blade has a lot of design elements that rewards player intuition as well as demanding player intuition in order for them to make progress.

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Add to this the fact that you are given an army to control and that technically makes Mount And Blade Warband the best MMORPG ever made… and it’s not even an MMORPG. As such I don’t personally enjoy playing MMO’s, while I used to play World Of Warcraft back in the day, after my account was hacked and my character lost, I realized that all of my efforts playing World Of Warcraft were futile, especially when games like Need For Speed World get shut down by EA, what is stopping Blizzard from doing the same?

My advice to anyone who wants to develop an MMO is to ask yourself “how can I make this game more rewarding?” and I don’t mean improving what is already there. In theory, what you need to do is find a new niche in the form of rewarding elements. Invested empowerment and personalization has been proven to be ineffective in the long run.

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This leaves kinetic empowerment and exploration and most MMORPG’s don’t focus on these rewarding elements and that’s not to say that they aren’t there, rather the lack of social interaction revolving around these two rewarding elements causes them to be far less emphasized as they can often detract from the social experience. Invested empowerment creates a hierarchy which influences the community and gets players to feel as if they are inferior/superior to others based on how much investment they have in the game.

Personalization allows players to define themselves in the social realm so that they can portray themselves through imagery, it also lets them create a cool/trendy avatar that allows them to show rather than tell. It’s a psychological thing mostly but it works. Now what does exploration and kinetic empowerment have to do with social gaming? How often do you see people chatting in public lobby’s in first person shooters and how often do they say anything of value? This is because players are way too absorbed in kinetic activity to put their efforts into communication.

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As for exploration, exploring a world is an isolating experience because your eyes are fixated on the aesthetic awe rather than connecting with the other players. It would be cool if people would band together and explore a world together, maybe there are role-playing groups that do this but if such things do exist then they are incredibly niche. As such it’s difficult to focus on these rewarding elements because they tend to divert players away from the social interaction in which an MMO is supposed to revolve around.

In any case, MMO’s will always have these problems so long as they strive to be Online social simulators, so I doubt the genre will ever appeal to me as much as it used to. However there is still a demographic for it and as such I feel the need to voice my opinion on it as well as give people ideas on how to make these games better. I do hope that you have taken something away from this and that it will hopefully impact the MMORPG genre in a positive way.

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Still, if you are thinking of developing an MMO, take time to consider the other routes and see which is best for you. MMORPG’s may sound like huge, massive and successful games but this is only the case in the circumstance that the developer can give the genre a needed boot to the ass by solving some of its many problems. Only that way will the genre return to its supremacy and will another MMO ever rival the likes of World Of Warcraft. Blizzard’s multi-million dollar game has a weak point, you just need to hit it for massive damage!!!

Special Thanks to Zombz for the Images