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sunandshadow

MMO Postmortem Project - Player Impressions

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The purpose of this thread is to collect our impressions, as designers who are also player, of the design successes and failures of various MMOs. I'd like to see posts saying:

"I decided not to play game X after trying it for an hour, and here's why." (Try not to be abusive/insulting to the game or its designers.)

"I played game Y until I had completed about half the game, and I admired/enjoyed features A B and C while playing, but then I quit and here's why."

"I played game Z to completion, or close enough. I found D, E, and F to be the game's greatest successes. I found U, V, and W to be the games biggest weak points, and thought they could have be improved in such and such ways."

OR
"Games H and I are quite similar, so here's a comparison/contrast of them."

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I played Starpeace Online for a few minutes. The buildings looked like a bad art exhibit and I could only build an export warehouse and got bored of waiting for it to finish. But the map was huge and UI looked nice. I didn't find the nugget of fun in the game when I logged in a second time and tried to build more.

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I'll start with the games I tried and decided not to play, since it will be much quicker to comment on a few hours' worth of play or one deal-breaking flaw than it will be when I get to game I played more fully.

Flyff - This game was my first unfortunate experience with "auto-combat." Auto-combat means you click on a monster, then wait until your character and/or pet monsters beat it to death. No strategy or tactics involved. Probably someone somewhere likes auto-combat, but to me if there is no strategy or tactics involved (spending stat points does not count) it isn't really a "game". I just don't see the point of playing something like this.

MixMaster and Eudemons Online - These two MMOs are quite similar. All characters are monster tamers, and the monsters do the majority of the fighting. These games both suffer from auto-combat; two or three monsters follow the player around at all times, and when a monster is clicked the characters and monsters all beat on it until it dies. Additionally both of the English versions of these games are quite badly translated, making it difficult to do the quests in them.

Rappelz - This game seemed like it would be a good game except for one really glaring design problem - no keyboard control of movement. I really am baffled why anyone would design an MMO with no option for WASD movement. The only possible exception is a game like Dofus where the view is quite zoomed out fixed-camera view isometric, and combat is tactical, both situations ill-suited to keyboard controlled movement. At any rate my arm was in serious pain after an hour of controlling all movement with the mouse. I regret being physically unable to play the game more, because I was quite interested by what I read of the game's pet system.

Ryzom, 2Moons, and Guild Wars - This trio of games seemed to have over-all higher quality design than the first three I've mentioned. Ryzom has quite unique science fiction worldbuilding, with original races and monsters, and a flexible and extensive crafting system. 2Moons requires players to be 18 or older, which I appreciated all by itself, and I also enjoyed the bawdy humor of the NPCs in the starter city. The occasional glowing monsters which dropped bonus loot were also a nice way to spice up grinding on monsters. Guild Wars I did not play long enough to see any particular virtues of the game, but I had been told before I started that the game has some very interesting pvp minigames available at higher levels.

What did these three games have in common? In all three cases I stopped playing the game shortly after completing the starter area. In all three cases I did not really get immersed in the game, and there seemed to be either a shortage of quests after the tutorials were done, or the quest text failed to build an interesting identity within the game world for my character, and there were not any alternative goals dangled under my nose such as achieving an important class or profession skill, improving my character's appearance customizations, or investigating a bad guy. If I quit an MMO at any point other than the very beginning or the very end the reason I quit is almost always because the game has failed to give me either an interesting story to find out the next piece of or an interesting non-story goal to aim for in the next few hours. (For comparison, some examples of good non-story goals other games provided are: unlock the ability to have a mount or a house, unlock the ability to shapeshift or capture pets or gain some other tactically interesting new spell/skill, learn how to effectively play a new minigame, earn a quest reward which can be exchanged for an appearance customization, etc.)

In Guild Wars I think a major barrier to my immersion was the fact that exploring the world and killing monsters was all instanced (for players not in a group) so I was basically wandering around in a wilderness by myself for hours with neither NPCs nor other players providing a sense of companionship or community. In 2Moons the game seemed to channel everyone toward PvP after completing the tutorial area, so PvE questing after that point was only a token effort. For a player like me who has no real interest in PvP that's like the game giving me the cold shoulder. Ryzom on the other hand I could tell was more of a sandbox game for explorers and experimenters; the opposite of 2Moons, but still not aimed at a player like me who is mainly motivated by story and collecting/completing.

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I played Starpeace Online for a few minutes. The buildings looked like a bad art exhibit and I could only build an export warehouse and got bored of waiting for it to finish. But the map was huge and UI looked nice. I didn't find the nugget of fun in the game when I logged in a second time and tried to build more.


That sounds much like my experiences with Evony (MMORTS) and Tygras (non-mmo online pet breeding... well I can't really call it a game, so I guess it must be a toy). Also with single player games like Plant Tycoon, Virtual Villagers, and pretty much every other game by that company. What is supposed to be fun about a game which is 90% waiting? :blink:

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Cool thread.

Many of you have probably played a number of indie MMOs or games built by smaller companies. For the good or bad, I have for the most part played the multi-million dollar MMOs by the AAA studios. I started way back when with Ultima Online (my favorite game ever - possibly because I was so young, possibly because it was the first, possibly because of its amazing and unique gameplay but probably a combination of all). Since then I have played a whole slew. I thought Asheron's Call was great. More recently: Shadowbane, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings, Age of Conan, Rift, Vanguard, Guild Wars, and many more.

I stopped playing them all essentially for one reason. It boiled down to this: If I want to play World of Warcraft, I'll play World of Warcraft. In other words, most games I've tried in the last few years are so similar in every aspect to WoW that I may as well just play WoW because the others all fall short in some regard. Most of the time, painfully short. Changing the story doesn't do it for me because if I'm being honest I don't pay much attention to the stories. I love advancing characters, collecting items, upgrading, building, etc...

Any team that releases a working MMO has my respect. I think it is just a phenomenal achievement. However, to get my money, you are going to have to change it up a little. Ultima Online and Asheron's Call had character advancement systems that have since been forgotten. I love advancement. To really get into a game I need to always feel as though I am advancing. Grinding for 15 hours on quests to get myself the next level of 2 spells is boring. Running the same instance 9 times for 1 piece of armor is boring. In Asheron's Call, you did have to grind experience but it had a skill system so that you could dump your experience into skill points regularly. I could spend an hour playing and raise a couple of skills and even if it was only a little bit, I felt as though I did something.

I did try Darkfall - which is supposed to be much more open and player driven but it was too hardcore for me and I simply don't have the time anymore.

If someone builds an MMO that is fun, gives you that feeling of advancement, and has some cool hooks - I think they will be on a good path. Oh... and it can be nothing like WoW.

Just my 2cents :)

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That is, I couldn't build anything else afterwards and I didn't know why.

I also played Rappelz but got intimidated by players that were more experienced than me. I was going to play with my cous and I don't know why I didn't go back to that game. It was an okay game. Probably because RPG's take so long and I can't really hope to accomplish something when there's so many other players.

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@elondon - When I get around to writing about my experience playing Dofus I have positive things to say about the character building system in that game. I'm not much of a fan of stat points, but in that game I actually enjoyed the way they worked. I played Dofus before I played WoW, but those are the only two games I've played so far that had more than one workable way to build a character of any given class. Other MMOs with stat points such as Perfect World and Maplestory have their stat points rendered pretty much meaningless by the fact that there's a clear best way to spend the points for each class.

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So you're looking for a postmortem of my experience, rather than of the game as a game and/or social phenomenon? Groovy.

EvE Online here. I always try to capitalize both Es because someone made a joke about it being "Everyone versus Everyone" and I thought that was clever. Anyhow, I had that sucker set to autopay on a yearly basis to save a few bucks, since I played the crap out of it for the better part of half a decade. I freaking loved EvE, because I was fed up with video games, and it seemed to spit in the face of games in general while still scratching my video game itch. Predictable rewards? Not really. Intelligible ratio of time invested to returns on those investments? Not unless you know a guy who used that system since the most recent patch. Rules that engender a positive experience for all players, regardless of skill level? Not on your life. A sense of accomplishment and superiority based on time and effort spent in-game? Go choke to death on a thousand penises.

After years of skill development, my character is now able to pilot almost any spaceship in the game, which is no mean feat. Not only can he fly them, he's downright dangerous in them. I've got a lot of highly implausible solo PvP kills in my combat log, including several insances of me in my interceptor brutalizing twinked-out newbs who spent hundreds of dollars on eBay buying illegal in-game assets. I'm a many-armed fury of death and it takes a half-dozen skilled players with advanced characters and expensive gear to beat me in a fight, since I'm savvy enough to choose my battles and badass enough to win the ones I choose.

However, I'm a pauper, and although I can use the state-of-the-art gear, I'm not willing to do what it takes to obtain it. For me to express my full potential would require dozens of hours of gameplay just in amassing resources and trading goods, or even more time invested in establishing, operating and defending a supply chain that would build that kind of gear. Since a death in EvE costs you everything you were using at the time, the price of failure is steep, and even the best of us get hosed now and again, blundering into 50-versus-1 boobytraps. Consequently, I am Yojimbo, a mighty swordsman wandering the land in a threadbare kimono and carrying an old, poorly-maintained blade. Sure, I win any fight up to and including 5v1, but when I lose, I have to spend a week doing menial labor to buy another kimono and sword. Ultimately, it's not worth my time, and I've wandered off, periodically dropping in for a month's subscription to check out a new content update, but if I'm on for six hours in any given three-month period, it's an anomaly.

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@Iron Chef Carnage - EvE is such a unique game - I've always wondered what makes people enjoy playing it despite the fact that, as you say, it does seem to spit in the face of what we generally consider good game design. I've never personally been tempted to play it but I hear it mentioned regularly, it's undeniably popular. Could you comment a little more on exactly how what you were doing in the game scratched your videogame itch and was satisfying?

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@sunandshadow - I'll check out Dofus, it looks interesting.

Skill based and point based systems are by no means perfect. Most of them suffer from exactly what you describe. In AC, while you have a vast array of skills and stats to put points into, you still need to decide what type of character you want. If you want an offensive mage, for example - there was that certain path you needed to go down with your experience and points and if you didn't your character would be much less powerful than another offensive mage at the same level who did follow that path. In AC, if you didn't set your initial stat points properly, your character was forever gimped. I've never tried to think of a good solution for that issue in that type of system. The community of the game always come up with that most efficient path for a given class.

That is a whole separate design discussion though - off the postmortem topic. :)

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