Archive for the ‘Game design’ Category

My daily FF ritual lately goes as follows. Log in, say hi to guildies, jump into expert roulette for my daily alexandrite quest, then daily Main scenario roulette for more soldiery so I can buy more alex and then it’s off to farm fates and hunts for even more alexandrites. It might sound awful and I admit I could do without more runs of Keeper of the lake right now but it’s not as bad as you would think. After all, I’ve been doing it for close to 10 days now and I keep coming back to it.

Why? Because thanks to some clever social engineering, Square Enix actually managed to turn a grind into something that can be fun and today, I want to show how clever it can be.

Alex and you

So a bit of background first about why I’m farming all those alexandrites. One of the steps for the Zodiac weapon involves getting 75 alexandrites, an item that you can acquire various ways and meld those 75 alexandrites with 75 materias that will upgrade various stats on your weapon based on what you chose. It’s a long process because alexandrites don’t just drop out of the sky and material can get quite expensive.

How exactly can one get alexandrite?

Daily Expert dungeon quest: 1 Alex. There’s a repeatable daily quest that will net you one mysterious map that will lead you to 1 alexandrite. It’s the most reliable and easiest way to get alexandrite.

400 tomes of soldiery: 1 Alex. Tomes of soldiery are one of the currency that you get from daily roulettes (random dungeons/trials/raids runs),  the dungeons themselves and a few other endgame activities. A good rule of thumb is that doing 4 roulettes should net you enough for 1 alex.

200 allied seals: 1 Alex. You get these seals from Hunts which is simply killing rare monsters that spawn in the world as a group. These monsters are tough enough that you cannot solo them. If you want to farm these, it’s best to join a dedicated hunt group that roams around looking for them.

Fate drops: 8-10% chance of getting an Alexandrite from completing fates. Fates (public quests) spawn all over and completing them will give you a chance to get an alexandrite. It’s random so you can hit dry spells or be real lucky. The best way to farm these is in a group where you can clear fates quickly and do multiples rapidly.

One of the most optimal ways I found to do the Alex grind time wise is to do the following.

  1. Do daily Expert roulette for guaranteed Alex. Also gives about 70 soldiery
  2. Do daily Main scenario roulette. Main scenario roulette gives 120 soldiery the first shot, the dungeons themselves give 100 and you often have the new player bonus for an additional 100. So 120 + 100 + 100 =320 soldiery.  Combined with the 70 from daily expert and you can be at 390 which is just shy of the 400 needed.
  3. Join a Fate farm group that also goes after hunts when they pop and if none exist, I’ll start one. The idea of these groups is to farm Fates quickly in-between Hunts spawn. Usually I’ll farm in middle laNoscea since its low level and the Fates cycle quickly so you can do them real fast.

Clever Squeenix

Let’s look at how clever this grind is in terms of getting people involved in the game.

  1. It gives me a reason to do the daily roulettes even if I don’t need gear from it, which speeds up the queues for everyone.
  2. Once you’re done with the main Scenario instances there’s no real reason to go back to them and yet, up and coming players still need them. By offering me so much soldiery, I get to go back to old content and help out newer players
  3. It gets me involved in Hunts a type of content I’m not drawn to. For players who want to do them, more players involved = more opportunity to do hunts.
  4. It gets me in groups of strangers outside my guild. Most people in my guild don’t need this content. So when I go out with farm groups, I get to meet new people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Just last night I was enjoying my farm group so much that I ended up playing later because I enjoyed the company.
  5. It makes me initiate group content. When there’s no group already created, I will create a new group and invite people to it. This way I contribute directly to having people play together.
  6. The material steps get me involved in the auction house something I usually avoid like the plague. I’m not going to become big players but now that I understand it better I do find myself putting up a few things for sale and buying some stuff. Again, more players participating in the AH, the more fun it is for people who love that stuff. I’m also adding crafting mats to the market instead of vendoring it to the delight of the crafters.

And there’s probably more stuff I’m forgetting about.

See how Squeenix turned a grind into an engine to build community? If I’m a hardcore min-maxer, the best way to go about completing the grind is to get involved in the community and not grind by myself in a corner. If I’m more into the social aspect of the game, this grind is a good way to do group content and meet people.  Just yesterday, we had both types of player in my group and everyone was getting along and having fun.

That is a powerful tool, giving reason for different type of players to do content together besides raids where performance and egos can ruin the experience for everyone. With a grind, everyone’s going insane together and that’s a lot of fun.

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I swear I don’t make these things happen on purpose but it seems the topic of the hour is game development and game critiquing (is that even a word?), both being topics that are near and dear to my heart so I feel compelled to write. I’ll get back to my resolution to be more positive soon I swear.

Before delving into today’s post I want to take a moment to lay out precisely where my critic lies today. My issue is not with the people (dev, QA, artists, etc…) actually making videogames who are doing an extremely hard job in incredibly stressful environments.  When I read stories about how developers worked 70hrs weeks for months on end and poured all their heart into a game only to see it butchered by some producer crazy demands my heart break for them.

My critic today targets a particular defense I’ve heard too often used, the “you don’t know! Cut us some slack!” defense. There’s many reasons why I hate this particular line of defense in an argument, it’s dismissive, it insults the intelligence of the person making the critic, it doesn’t solve anything… but more than anything it warps the relationship between a customer and the company selling the product.

So before continuing on, I suggest you go read this article on Kotaku.

I might not know you but I know myself

I too have to deal with harsh critics, big budgets, limited time and though customers in my line of work. One of the things that was drilled into me and that served me really well was the following:

“The client isn’t always right! But he always know that he is.”

What this phrase illustrates is that ultimately, whether the client is right or not is irrelevant. What will decide whether or not he buys you product is his perception of the product and people do know what they think.

How does this play out? Let’s say I play a game and as I play the second level I really hate my experience. I have no fun and I end up quitting the game altogether and uninstalling it. Then if I have to give my opinion on the game I’ll say that level 2 was so awful it caused me to quit and if asked for more details I’ll say the I felt the level felt badly designed and that the controls were poor causing me to struggle unnecessarily.

Now, that is an opinion. It’s my perception of the level and by extension the game. There could be really good reasons for why the level turned out the way it did and why it felt like it was badly designed. Do any of these reasons really matter to me?

No! If I paid 40$ for that game I will feel like it was a bad investment. I didn’t enjoy the experience and that’s it. The why and how doesn’t matter, I didn’t like it.

Let’s keep going with our example. I didn’t enjoy the game and I make it known to the developer. I tell him why I didn’t like the game (bad controls, poor second level) in the hope that they either fix things or at the very least acknowledge me and work on these issues for the next game.

Instead I get this answer “Well, we had limited budget, lead dev left to run naked in Africa  and we ran out of money.” Okay…. That sucks but how does this addresses my problem? It doesn’t make the controls better, it doesn’t fix level 2. You’re kinda saying that you agree there’s issues but according to that answer I should be understanding and be grateful for my bad game experience? Really?

Let’s go forward a few years when they release Game, the second chapter, how likely is it that I’ll buy it or recommend it? Last time I had a bad experience and the dev didn’t really acknowledge my issue and didn’t fix it either. Chances are pretty high that I’ll be way more suspicious, that I won’t spend my money and that I’ll tell people to stay away… sounds logical no?

Don’t give me excuses, give me solutions

So this is what it boils down to. When people make critics of games or elements of games, acknowledge the issue and explain to us how you plan on fixing it or why you don’t agree with us. If you think the feature is well done then explain to me why you think it is and then it becomes a matter of opinion.

But don’t give me excuses. Don’t tell me that it’s hard to make games or that you had issues during development. It doesn’t do anything for me and it doesn’t change how I felt when I played your game.

And if like the article author was saying you had to make tough choices to publish on time then be ready to suffer for these though decisions. You cut the ending quality to launch? Then chances are that the ending is going to be critiqued no? A though choice does explain why the ending sucks, but it doesn’t justify it.

In closing

I want to close on a more positive note though by agreeing with, and repeat one of the major points of the Kotaku article. No matter what, please try to be respectful of the people working in the games industry. Calling someone an idiot because a game doesn’t live up to your standards isn’t helping anyone. Lay out your issues, explain why you feel X or Y isn’t working and leave it at that.

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I give up… go read this interview by John Walker of Rock Paper Shotgun. It’s not a super fun read but it’s an important one and it’s the best example I could ever give of why I’m not funding anything anymore on Kickstarter and why…I better stop here….

I’ve been trying for nearly a week to write about this interview and I can’t. I’ve gone from murderous 3000 words essays that could get me sued to more subdued but confusing posts and nothing is working out. Again just go read it if you haven’t already, I think it’s important that gamers be aware of how some game creators think.

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Read part 1 here

Yesterday post and the discussion that followed in the comments made me realize that there’s more to this topic than just “is this good for Wildstar or no”. Gunboat in particular was making a lot of the same arguments that were floating around in 2005-2006 surrounding WoW raiding, namely that hard doesn’t equate with good or engaging content, that it leaves out a large number of players and that players/guild that won’t succeed in this environment will get frustrated and leave.

He’s pretty much right with all his points and the fact that WoW softened its raiding endgame and that there was a lot of talks about these very issues back then does indicate that players were getting frustrated. We’re getting here into interesting topics here namely quality of life improvements, player frustration and player retention.

But for me the real core topic behind all of these is: Is it okay to let players and guilds fail, be frustrated and even leave?

Think about it for a moment, think about other games that you liked in the past and try to remember how failure was presented and its consequences. The answer to this question is not that simple.

Myself I have changed my stance since 2005 when I was reading and shouting the case for casual players who had lives and needed to be included and lots of other things. Now I think back on that time and I realize that despite the moaning this was probably when I was the most motivated and engaged by an MMO. So let’s dig into this juicy topic today.

Quality of life and casual content

I want to get the Quality of life and casual content arguments out of the way first. 40 man raiding and a more difficult raid set-up does not mean that a game should not have quality of life improvements and content for casuals. Quite the opposite in fact, it should have as much casual content as it can shove in there besides raiding. In the case of Wildstar, I truly believe they have hit a goldmine with player housing and that many people might stick to the game only for that.

Same goes for dungeon finder, flight paths, better laid out questing, multi-spec , resources marked on the map and tons of other improvements WoW made to its game need to be included and improved upon. Lack of these features does not make a game better or bring people together, they are just frustrations.

But what about casual raids? 10 mans and the like? Having multiple raid difficulty doesn’t prevent the hardcore crowd from raiding and everyone is happy right?

I think that’s the reasoning Blizzard had with Wotlk and at first glance I would agree that casual raids and hardcore raids should be able to co-exist… but the reality is that once you go that road, the majority of players will choose the path of less resistance which is the smaller, casual raids. Smaller raids equal smaller guilds, which weakens the community and then you solved nothing.

If we’re being smart, we can look at WoW raid set-ups from Wotlk to Pandaria and how it affected the player community. It did not get better, only progressively worst to the point now that very few solid guilds exists and a good number of players just go solo, do LFR for a while and unsub.

To summarize, quality of life: yes! , casual content: absolutely as long as it is not smaller raids. Now that these two are out of the way, let’s get to the main event.

Is it okay to fail?

There’s a saying somewhere that goes along the lines of: adversity unites communities. Real-world disasters have often, but not always, brought people together. If you have raids that are harder and require more players it would stand to reason that this will bring more players together and for longer amount of time.

The downside of course is that not everyone can and will succeed in that kind of set-up. Prolonged failure builds frustration and inevitably, it will cause people to quit the game. You can’t have hard content without generating some frustration. Alternate activities like player housing, pvp or other kinds of content can help alleviate the frustration but in the end, you’re bound to lose players.

On the other end, very easy and casual content won’t retain players either. I know of many players who quit after completing a few raids in LFR figuring that they had seen what the game had to offer. With no guilds, communities or common goals to pursue in game they stopped playing quickly.

So here’s an interesting question that I wish I had the answer to. If we go by numbers alone, does harder, longer lasting content keep players in the game longer than easy content that you can complete all by yourself?

I believe the answer is the former because that type of content creates bond between players that last beyond the game itself. I have met friends thanks to raiding that I still keep in contact with regularly. I even followed some of them in Wildstar! So just by the virtue of their presence, a good group of friends can get someone playing a game and the best way of meeting these people is through guilds. What is the strongest common activity that a guild can set itself? Raiding of course and bigger raids means bigger guilds.

So to get back to the original answer, is it okay to let some players and guilds fail? I believe so. Yes it generates frustration but I think that is offset by the stronger communities ties it create and that will mitigate frustration. The opposite, make everything casual and accessible, just means that people will quit once they complete content because they won’t have incentive to remain in game.

Well, this has dragged on long enough so on that note, I am curious to get your opinions on the matter.

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A long time ago, close to 10 years now, WoW came out and in short order created a revolution in the world of videogames. If we’re to name industry changing games of the 2000s, WoW will probably be at the top of the list. Now, 10 years later we get Wildstar, a game with many similar features made by a company (Carbine) that was launched by some of the very same people that worked on the original WoW. By their own word, they wanted to create a new MMO without repeating the mistakes they did with vanilla WoW… which is saying a lot considering what happened with WoW.

One huge element that struck me with that statement is that Carbine considers that 40 mans raids were not a mistake. In fact, they want to get back to them because of a few reasons but chief among them, get people working together again.

I had to think long and hard about this one but in the end, I agree.

My history

Way back when Ragnaros was the biggest and meanest thing you could fight, I was playing a little rogue with high hopes but little knowledge in the way of things. Just getting into Molten Core seemed a feat by itself and I spent countless hours grinding reps and mats, begging priests for healz so I could run dungeons and scouring realm and guild forums for opportunities. Through all that I faltered quite a few times before I finally convinced an actual raiding guild to take me in and from there started my hardcore raider career that saw me play 7 hours a day and netted me a realm first kill of C’thun a while later.

Was everything perfect? Hell no. At the time I was complaining about the game taking too much time, about how it sucked that my more casual friends couldn’t join in, about how 40 man raiding was insanity. I even blogged about it on a tiny blog that might still exist somewhere in Internet limbo. Still, despite all of this, that time was the one I had the most fun playing the game for itself.

Why, because there was a sense of belonging that we lost somewhere along the way. As developers and MMOs moved away from long raid, from 40 mans and gave us more and more life of quality upgrades like LFD, the guilds got smaller, the time spent together shorter and it became more and more of a solo affair. Now, you can raid in most MMOs without ever even needing to talk to someone else beyond basic group functions.

I might not be hardcore anymore but…

If I’m being honest, my chances of seeing the inside of a raid in Wildstar are low. Even if I wanted, I cannot do 7 hours a day gaming anymore. Back then I was a graduating student with a single class, now I have a career and obligations outside of gaming. So, I should be supportive of the new MMO formula of always easier access for people like me who have lives outside of gaming.

Thing is, I’ve not been swept away by that way of doing things. I find myself nowadays treating most MMOs as single player experiences that happen to have other players in them. As soon as I complete the current offering of content, my interest dies down instantly and I stop playing like what just happened with FF14.

I miss having a goal to work toward, I miss going after that goal with a group of people. I think that 40 man raiding might just be that huge challenge that will bring players back together. We’ll swear at it, claim it’s insane, too long and just stupid but in the end, we might just do it together.


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